Rajat Sharma

New Year dawns with hope of vaccines which will counter Covid pandemic

akbLet me begin the New Year by extending my best wishes to all of you. The year that has gone by, was one that frightened each and every one of us. We could not visit our near and dear ones, could not hug them, could not shake hands with them nor could we invite acquaintances to our homes. I spent nine months either at my home or in India TV studio. I avoided meeting people and communicated with all, either through phone or video calls. For the last 280 days I had been going to India TV Broadcast Centre, but did not meet anybody physically, face to face.
It has never been in my nature to communicate with others through phone or video only. I always preferred meeting people daily, looking into their eyes, while speaking to them like close friends. Meeting people, standing with them in times of joy and sorrow used to give me energy and strength. I learned a lot from such meetings, but in 2020, all of us were helpless.

When the Covid pandemic broke, actor Salman Khan told me “jo dar gaya, woh bach gaya” (only those who fear, will survive). Everybody across the world lived in a state of fear. People could not attend weddings, nor could attend the funerals of their near and dear ones. The very nature of living and dying underwent a fundamental change. In the New Year, let all of us pray, we will get rid of this state of fear and the restrictions that have been placed on us. Let’s hope we can again hold each other’s hands and hug them to give them strength, and heartily laugh with those who love to celebrate life.

Let me usher in the New Year with the good news that India will start a dry run for Covid vaccination from January 2. There is hope that vaccination will begin in India from the second week of this month. The government panel will review the two main vaccines Oxford-AstraZeneca and Biotech, while Pfizer will make their presentation. All the three have sought emergency approvals from the government to start vaccination. The first shot that will be given will be of an indigenous vaccine. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the first vaccine that will be given will be the one that has been made in India and preparations are being made on a war footing to vaccinate people across India within the shortest time span.

We must not be in a tearing hurry to get the vaccine, until and unless they pass all tests. As of now, the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine manufactured with the help of Serum Institute of India will be the one that may be given first in India. More than 5 crore doses of this vaccine are ready in Pune. Every hour five lakh doses are being prepared and by the end of the month, 10 lakh doses per hour will be prepared.
Once vaccination starts, it does not mean that the pandemic will end soon. Everybody will have to be on guard against the virus that is mutating into new strains. On Thursday, Prime Minister Modi said, the slogan in 2020 was ‘jab tak dawai nahin, tab tak dhilai nahin’ (no laxity till the vaccine arrives), but now our slogan should be “dawai bhi, dawai ke saath kadaai bhi” (let’s have the vaccine, but continue to be strict).

India, over the years, had been carrying out the world’s largest vaccination campaign. More than two-thirds of the world’s vaccines are made in India. Once the vaccines are ready, India will launch the world’s biggest Covid vaccination programme. The Modi government intends to vaccinate all the 130 crore plus Indians, out of which plans are being rolled out to vaccinate 50 crore people in the first stage itself. By July, Serum Institute of India expects to prepare nearly 30 crore doses ready. That is why, the Prime Minister said on Thursday that India will be the nerve center for the worldwide vaccination programme. Even after supplying vaccines to the entire world, no country can claim to fight the pandemic alone. For the entire world to remain healthy, all countries must join hands to give the pandemic a collective fight, Modi said.

The credit goes to Modi, who assessed the dangers of the pandemic on time, and decided to impose a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the deadly virus. This decision was a bitter medicine for all, but ensuring that 133 crore Indians remain indoors, was not an easy task. He took the help of all state governments in ensuring that the lockdown was in place. He ensured that there was uninterrupted supply of food and essential commodities. He also ensured that no Indian should face hunger. He also motivated more than a billion Indians how to stay safe inside their homes. For ten months, he addressed the nation ten times. This is the hallmark of an astute and capable leader.
The outcome is there for all to see. The pandemic is, more or less, under control in India. Covid cases fell to a six-month low of 8.2 lakhs in December alone. December recorded the fewest number of deaths (11,400) since May (4,267). The highest death toll (33,000) was in September. December was also the third consecutive month of fall in cases and fatalities. At this moment, there is need for cautious optimism, even as countries like the USA and UK are struggling to cope with the pandemic.

Most of the developed nations are looking towards India to gauge how our government is dealing with the pandemic. They were initially sceptical, but are now openly praising Modi government for the manner in which he handled the nationwide lockdown. Countries like the USA, UK, France and Germany were lax while enforcing lockdown, and they are now facing a second wave of pandemic. These developed economies have huge resources, but because of mistakes, they are now facing fresh problems. That is why, on Thursday, Modi said, we in India must not commit the mistakes done by others, we must learn from past mistakes and must not relent in enforcing safety precautions.

Carrying out a gigantic vaccination programme throughout India is not an easy task. Thousands of cold storages have been set up in states to ensure that the entire population of 133 crore Indians get the vaccine. Millions of trained health workers and crores of syringes will be deployed to vaccinate people. Since Narendra Modi had made preparations well in advance, we are now in the stage of giving final touches to that plan. Even though the formal approval was given, 83 crore syringes had been ordered by the government. Several companies are manufacturing one lakh syringes per hour. 59,000 trainers are imparting training to millions of health workers how to vaccinate. In every district and taluka, in government primary health centres and district and sub-divisional hospitals, trainers are teaching health workers about following the Covid vaccination protocol. Even after such massive preparations, only 25 crore Indians will be vaccinated by July this year.

Until and unless the last Indian is vaccinated, the threat of the virus will remain. We must comply with the guidelines for wearing masks, frequent washing of hands and maintaining two-yard social distancing.
We must remain careful not to fall prey to baseless rumours being circulated by vested interests. Two weeks ago, in my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’, we showed how ten Muslim outfits in Mumbai decided to consult experts whether the Covid vaccine contained animal extract made from pork, which is considered un-Islamic? The Prime Minister, on Thursday referred to baseless rumours being spread by various people about the vaccine. He pleaded with people not to forward such baseless messages on social media, and following the government guidelines on Covid vaccination.
Imagine, on one hand, the government has to protect people by vaccinating them, and on the other hand, it has to protect people from baseless rumours about the vaccine. Rumour mongers will come in the form of specialists, experts, clerics and scholars. They will act as if they are speaking the truth, as if they are your well-wishers. The Raza Academy from Mumbai wrote a letter to World Health Organization seeking information about use of animal extract in Covid vaccines, but it is yet to get any reply from the WHO. Maulana Khalilur Rehman of Raza Academy on Thursday said he was waiting for the WHO’s reply. “We are against Covid vaccines, but till the time we do not get reply from WHO, Muslims will avoid taking the vaccine”, he said.

This is one insidious manner in which questions are being raised about the vaccine. He should take a leaf from Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind leader Maulana Mehmood Madni, who said, the question is not whether any medicine is ‘halaal’ or ‘haraam’. So long as the medicine can save lives, there is no harm in taking the medicine, he said.
Maulana Qari Ishaq Gora, a noted cleric of Darul Uloom, Deoband, said on Thursday ‘jaan hai, toh jahan hai’ (so long as you are safe and alive, the world is yours). He appealed to all Muslims not to believe in baseless rumours or speculations. “To save one’s life, everything is halaal (Islamic)”, he added.

The rumours emanated when Indonesia imported 12 lakh Chinese Sinopharm Covid vaccine, but it was later found that it contained animal extract from pork. Indonesian government decided not to use the vaccine. The Saudia Arabian cleric Sheikh Assim bin Luqman al-Hakeem has clearly said that even if a vaccine contained animal extract that is ‘haraam’(un-Islamic) it must be used if it can save people’s lives.

On social media, a rumour was circulated about Microsoft founder Bill Gates saying that the side effects of Covid vaccine will register deaths of seven lakh people. The fact is: Gates had only said that the Covid vaccine may cause side effects in seven lakh people. There are also reports of international cyber crime gangs operating, trying to fleece people by asking them to share their bank details and OTPs (one time passwords) for vaccination and then cleaning off their money from their bank accounts.

The need of the hour is to remain vigilant, avoid listening to baseless rumours, and stay safe by following Covid guidelines. The New Year has dawned with a new hope. Let us all wait for the vaccine and face the deadliest attack on mankind in recent history, with courage and conviction.

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