Rajat Sharma

Keep vaccination issue away from politics

akb fullEven as the second wave of pandemic has declined to a large extent across India, political sabre-rattling continues over the vital issue of Covid-19 vaccination. On Friday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted in Hindi saying “July aa gaya hai, vaccine nahin aayi”. On Saturday, he posted another tweet with a graph saying “Mind the gap! #WhereAreVaccines”. The graph that he posted showed, India is 27 per cent below the target as far as cumulative vaccination is concerned. The graph pointed out, there were only 50.8 lakh vaccines given per day on average, while the daily vaccination target set to avoid a third wave was 69.5 lakh per day.

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan was the first to retort strongly on Twitter. He wrote: “Just yesterday, I put out facts on vaccine availability for the month of July. What is @RahulGandhi Ji’s problem? Does he not read? Does he not understand? There is no vaccine for the virus of arrogance and ignorance!! @INCIndia must think of a leadership overhaul”.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal reacted: “Rahul Gandhi ko apni party ka White Paper kude me daalna tha, uski bajaay Congress Sarkar ne vaccine ko kude me phenk diya. Punjab wa Rajaasthan Corona se kamai kar rahe hain. Rajasthan me mritakon ki sankhya chhupayi, Bhram aur panic phailakar ye log bhrashtachar karte hain.” (Rahul Gandhi wanted to throw his party’s white paper into dustbin, but Congress governments are throwing vaccines into waste bin. Punjab and Rajasthangovernments are making money through Corona. Rajasthan govt hid the true number of Covid deaths, they are indulging in corruption by spreading confusion and panic)

Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar replied to Rahul Gandhi on Twitter saying: “35 crore Indians have already taken their vaccines, Don’t know whether you have taken the vaccine or not?”

Rahul Gandhi has this ‘shoot-and-scoot’ habit of levelling a charge against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media, and normally Union ministers avoid reacting to his charges. But when Rahul questioned the government on the issue of vaccination, three union ministers retorted sharply. On Friday, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia told the media that for the last 11 days, 62 lakh people have been vaccinated on average, but Rahul Gandhi has ignored this fact because of his blind opposition to Modi government.

BJP leaders claim that 34 crore Indians have been vaccinated so far, but Congress has alleged that barely six crore Indians have got their double doses. They say this is hardly 5 to 6 per cent of the entire population. BJP leaders say that if one goes by percentage, one should look at statistics of how many percent of population in India and USA were infected and what percentage of people died due to Covid-19.

The man on the street wants to know whether there is any real shortage of vaccines? By what time, most of the Indians will be vaccinated? Let me place some facts, which neither Rahul Gandhi nor any other opposition leader can deny.

Fact number one: India has become the No. 1 country in the world with the largest number of 34.46 crore doses administered so far, whereas in the USA, 32.8 crore doses have been administered till now.

Fact number two: In the 45-plus age group, 19.91 crore people have got their vaccine dose, while in the 18 to 44 age group, 9.65 crore doses have been administered in India, 2.71 crore doses have been administered to our frontline workers, out of which 1.71 crore health care workers have got their vaccine dose.

Fact number three: Till July 2, a total number of 34 crore 46 lakh 11,291 vaccine doses have been administered in India. On July 1 alone, 42,64,123 doses were administered.

The Centre has promised to provide 12 crore doses during July, and the state governments have been informed about this well in advance, almost two weeks ago. 44.90 lakh doses will reach the states in the next three days. This is apart from the number of vaccine doses provided to private hospitals.The numbers clearly show that there is no shortage of vaccines in India presently.

Several state governments are also actively engaged in administering vaccine doses. Maharashtra is on top having administered 3.29 crore doses, next comes Uttar Pradesh which has administered 3.19 crore doses so far, third comes Gujarat with 2.61 crore doses administered till now. Madhya Pradesh comes after Rajasthan, Karnataka and West Bengal. In MP, 2.13 crore doses have been administered.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Friday night, we showed visuals of how a 1000-strong crowd of villagers descended on a vaccination centre nar Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh, where only 250 doses were available. There was a near stampede and police had to be called in. Similar crowd was witnessed in Agar Malwa town on MP.

Based on these two visuals of crowds, the state Congress alleged that the state government has failed in managing its vaccination programme. Vaccines are administered on only four days in a week – Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

There is no doubt that there has been mismanagement in the vaccination programme. Such crowds could have been avoided through a proper information drive. When our Bhopal reporter Anurag Amitabh spoke to the state health minister Prabhuram Chowdhury, he said, this was not mismanagement, but this is proof that there is much enthusiasm among the people about vaccines.

Crowds are also being witnessed at several vaccination centres in Mumbai too. At the Nesco vaccination centre in Mumbai’s Goregaon, people were seen standing in queues since 6 am. These included senior citizens too. Most of the people said there was complete lack of information about vaccines.

The Centre is supplying vaccine stocks to the states, but the task of ensuring proper management of crowds at vaccination centres rests on state governments, whether in MP or Maharashtra. There is no point blaming the Centre for gross mismanagement by state governments. In a vast country like India, such instances of overcrowding do happen.

One must remember that the USA had started its vaccination drive much ahead of India, but it is number two in the list, whereas India tops the list of people vaccinated. While 34.46 crore doses have been given in India, 32.8 crore doses have been given in USA till now. Brazil comes third with 10.27 crore doses administered. In UK, 7.79 doses were administered, while in Germany 7.48 doses have been given. In France, 5.44 crore doses have been administered till now. In Italy, the number is 5.21 crore.

Of course, the population of these European countries are much less compared to India, and they have vast health care resources, and yet, in India, we have speeded up our vaccination drive. This should be a matter of pride for all Indians.

It is true that there is much demand for vaccine doses among people because of the danger of a third wave. But one must remember that vaccines are not manufactured either by the BJP, or the Congress, either by Yogi Adityanath or by Capt. Amarinder Singh. Vaccines are being manufactured in Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech and Dr. Reddy Laboratories.

The task of the government is to procure the stocks of vaccines, ensure proper cold chain management, and see that people get their doses in a proper and regulated manner, under medical supervision. When the Centre gives figures about providing 12 crore doses in July, or one crore doses a day from August, it depends mostly on how vaccine production companies stick to their promise. Had there been vaccine stocks lying idle and are not reaching the masses, the government could have been blamed, but this is not so.

But since Day One, there has been too much politics on the vaccine issue. The Congress first questioned the efficacy of indigenously manufactured Covaxin and when this charge failed to stick, it demanded decentralization in procurement of vaccines. Congress demanded that state governments should be given the freedom to procure vaccines, but manufacturing companies, both in India and abroad, refused to deal with states. The Congress then did a U-turn and agreed to the Centre procuring the vaccines and supplying them to states for administering the doses. BJP leaders too indulged in politicizing matters, when they alleged that vaccines were being wasted in Congress-ruled states or being sold at higher rates to private hospitals.

I feel that we should keep the vaccine issue away from politics. Leaders of all parties should tell the people that as and when manufacturing and import of Covid vaccines improve, vaccine doses will be given to them.

In a vast country like India with diverse features, it is impossible to carry out a nationwide drive in administering vaccines to all within a week, a fortnight or within a month. Based on figures given by companies producing Covishield and Covaxin, nearly 70 per cent Indians will be hopefully vaccinated with double doses by the end of this year. If we add the figures of Covid vaccines that will be imported, the speed of vaccination drive may pick up.

To engage in political sabre-rattling is one thing, but one should find out why rumours or lack of proper information about vaccines led to huge crowds descending at vaccination centres. There is still a large section of people who still view these vaccines with suspicion, due to rumour mongering. It is the responsibility of those in public life like politicians, religious gurus, scholars and even film stars to come forward and tell the people that all the vaccines are safe and they should not fear. Only then can we collectively defeat the scourge of the pandemic.

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