Modi govt’s failure to achieve vaccination target, misplaced trust in private sector has led to fresh crisis
Centre must utilise production space in public sector units besides pushing private players to ramp up production to be able to achieve complete vaccination goal at least by middle of this year
In May, 2021, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar had announced that vaccination of all adults in the country would be completed by December, 2021. But the fact is that by that date, only 63 per cent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated. While the monthly average vaccination for September was around 8.1 million doses a day, it fell to 5.4 million in October and 5.7 million in November, which was a clear sign of loss of tempo and waste of valuable time in pandemic control with missed targets.
This is happening when Metro cities across the nation are witnessing a massive surge in COVID cases. Delhi and Mumbai have rapidly rising cases and disease positivity rate. A high positivity rate is a clear signal of the beginning of an impending yet another disastrous pandemic.
The Central government is to be blamed for its flawed vaccination policy, pseudo-scientific cures and its misplaced trust in private sector to which 25 per cent of doses were allocated.
It may be recalled that after protests by opposition partis and civil rights groups, the Central government had to abandon policies that benefitted corporate health sector due to ‘differential pricing’ and flawed vaccine production in favour of free and universal vaccination.
As on today, the only option to avert rapid spread of Omicron and COVID infection is fast tracking universal vaccination (two doses) and strict adherence to COVID behavioural discipline. Total vaccine requirement today would include nearly 99 million beneficiaries in the age group of 15-18 years which will require about 198 million doses (2 doses), about 30 million precautionary doses for healthcare and frontline workers, 142 million ‘precautionary doses’ for 60+year population and nearly 439.6 million doses for the remaining adult population.
Looking at its performance during the pandemic, the private sector was largely ineffective in dealing with the crisis and indulged in profiteering with very high vaccine costs and hospitalization bills. This even led the Central and state governments to invoke powers to curb such inhuman profiteering from helpless patients.
In short, the chief cause for the emergence of new COVID variants is vaccine inequality dictated by profit hungry global multinationals like Pfizer and Moderna. Which is not surprising since in capitalism, even at times of pandemic, profits stand before human lives.
Achieving complete vaccination goal at least by middle of this year requires boosting vaccine production to full capacity by both the major domestic vaccine manufacturers, making use of available unutilized production space in public sector, for instance, Chengalputu Integrated Vaccine complex (Tamil Nadu) and other public sector units. Above all, government should support and accept the demands of Asha workers, doctors and other health personnel immediately.
As on last week of December, 2021, civilian vaccination in Africa stood at a meagre 20 per cent (single dose). Although many African countries are a major source of gold, diamonds and rare minerals for Western multinational corporations for manufacturing an array of equipment ranging from mobile phones to solar batteries, they remain poor and are unable to pay high prices charged by global vaccine firms. Such vaccine inequality and large unvaccinated population are the fertile ground for emergence of new COVID variants like Omicron.
In COVID-19 virus, cells contain important genome regions that house spike genes (responsible for entry into lungs, attack human immune system), envelope proteins and immune system compromising genes. Spike gene region is the most vital in infection and its genes get attached to Ece.2 receptors, eventually affecting the lungs. The genes contain DNA acids that are placed like alphabets in a sentence.
In Alpha and Delta variants of non-vaccinated people, nearly 50 mutations have accumulated, eventually evolving Omicron variant. Mutations are similar to ‘wrong spellings’ of words (DNA) in the spike genes of SARS virus. As genome sequencing facilities are practically non-existent in Africa, the accumulated spike gene mutations that led to new Omicron variant could not be detected early.
Supercomputers are employed to read DNA ‘spelling mistakes’ compared with original SARS Wuhan virus and mutants identified. Presence of such variants are confirmed using a molecular biology test RTPCR. The whole procedure requires seven to eight hours for detection of Omicron variant infection in suspected patients.
Genome sequencing, RTPCR and supercomputing facilities are essential for detection of rapidly emerging SARSCOVID variants and development of vaccines and drugs. In India there are only 10 to 12 laboratories equipped with genome sequencing facility. One such genome sequencing facility is available in a laboratory in ICAR Delhi.
By virtue of gene mutations accumulated in Omicron genome, it spreads four times faster than Alpha, Beta and Delta variants. Another variant ‘Demicron’ is detected where both Delta and Omicron are together identified in patient.
As on January 2, nearly 27,000 new cases including those of Omicron variant were reported across the country. Due to fast nature of spreading infection, complete vaccination is absolutely necessary to avert a massive crisis. Mass media and civil society groups should educate people to fast-track vaccination. The Central government must avoid pseudo-science and immediately seek help from various opposition parties, scientists, secular civil society and religious groups to fast track and complete achieve vaccination goals.
Views are personal
The author retired as Principal Scientist (Genomics), ICAR, Delhi