Rajat Sharma

Vaccine is coming: Till then, follow Covid norms

akbAt last, the good news has come. The Covid vaccine is ready, and by February the first vaccine shots will be given, on priority, to healthcare workers, Covid patients and aged people in India. Others in India will have to wait for the vaccine till March or April. The Oxford University-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will be manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India, which is going to seek emergency regulatory approval from the government. It hopes to get the go-ahead by end of December. The company has so far stocked around 4 crore doses, and will have around 10 crore doses by January, says Adar Poonawalla, the company’s CEO.

Named Covishield, it will be available in market at Rs 500-600 per dose and at Rs 220-300 for the government. Every person is required to take two doses of the vaccine, which is 70 per cent effective. The efficacy of this vaccine will rise to 90 per cent, if the half dose is followed by a full dose. The vaccine can be transported and stored between 2 degree Celsius to 8 degree Celsius, which India can afford to preserve, store and transport in tropical conditions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in consultations with 30 chief ministers, will outline and approve the nationwide strategy to vaccinate people across India. The plan has already been prepared by health experts and top officials of Health Ministry, Planning Commission and other government bodies.

In the USA, Pfizer has announced that it has sought emergency approval from the government, and if received by December 11, the first shots of its vaccine will be given to people from December 12 onwards. In a nutshell, the Covid vaccine will be distributed in USA and other countries in the next 18 days, and in India, we will have to wait for 70 days. The AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine is cheaper than the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna. A Pfizer vaccine may cost Rs 1,500, while a Moderna vaccine may cost up to Rs 2,775.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister had a long video meeting with chief ministers of eight states, including Delhi, Maharashtra, Bengal and Kerala, which are presently the worst affected by Covid pandemic. The chief ministers have been told to enforce Covid norms strictly at crowded market places of metros, and to enforce night curfew in selected cities, if required. There were 777 Covid-related deaths in Delhi in one week, up from 625 in the previous week. Till now, 8,391 people have died of Covid pandemic in Delhi.

On Monday, the Supreme Court directed the governments of Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Assam to “take time to introspect” and prepare for December, when the pandemic will be at its worst. The apex court hauled up the government of Gujarat for allowing weddings, festivals, parties and public gatherings despite a surge in Covid cases. “Worse things will happen in December if states are not well prepared”, the Supreme Court said.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’, we showed on Monday how JCB machine is being used in cemeteries to create more space to bury bodies of Covid victims. Similarly, in Delhi’s crematoriums, relatives of the dead are being asked to collect the ashes immediately in order to create space for more bodies to be cremated. Delhi Police and Civil Defence volunteers have been deployed to challan people who do not wear masks in public. The biggest problem in tackling the pandemic is the ‘attitude’ of several people who are being highly irresponsible, by moving in public without masks.

The worst part is that apart from the crowded metros, the pandemic is spreading to smaller states where the population density is less, like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The HP government has blamed tourists who came from outside and spread the virus. In some cases, an entire village was full of Covid patients. Night curfew has been imposed in Shimla, Mandi, Kangru and Kullu.

Let me give one example from the USA to describe how the virus spreads. A man, who did not knew that he was carrying the virus, attended a wedding. Nearly 177 people who attended the wedding were later found Covid positive. Out of them, seven persons died. The most surprising part was that all these seven persons had not attended the wedding. They had only met people who had attended the wedding, but ended up losing their lives.

Since the wedding season has already begun, people in India will be busy attending the weddings. My request to all is: please stay away from weddings. You can be an unsuspecting receiver of virus. Please stay away from crowded places. Always wear masks and maintain social distancing. Wash your hands frequently with sanitizer. That is the least all of us can do. Till the time we are not vaccinated, this is the only mode of safety. For all of us.

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