Recently, the Health Minister shared a doctor's reply to a scathing column in medical journal Lancet on the Prime Minister's handling of Covid-19. The content shared by the Health Minister and several cabinet ministers was intended to prove that the PM can do no wrong. This has become the new strategy of the government: to shoot from the shoulder of a credible name, but in the process, damage their goodwill. The latest Myths & Facts press note is a similar effort. The first line dismisses the concerns raised by the opposition as distorted statements, half-truths and blatant lies.
So for the benefit of the author of this note, here is the Fiction in the press note versus Facts on the ground.
Fiction 1: The Central Government has remained engaged continuously with all the major international vaccine manufacturers right from mid-2020. We need to understand that buying vaccines internationally is not similar to buying 'off the shelf' items.
Fact: The truth is that the government placed its first order for India-manufactured vaccines only in the month of January this year. The Indian government's hubris on ridding India of Covid was clear. In April, the PM in his meeting with Chief Ministers stated "we have defeated Covid without the need for vaccines". That itself explains the procurement priority. Yes, the nation understands buying vaccines is not similar to buying off-the-shelf items - wish the government had understood its responsibility to stock vaccines sooner and had streamlined the procurement of international vaccines before and not when we are facing a severe second wave and vaccine shortage!
Fiction 2: The Central Government has proactively eased entry of vaccines approved by US FDA, EMA, UK's MHRA and Japan's PMDA, and WHO's Emergency Use Listing into India in April.
Fact: Emergency Use Approval for imported vaccines was given only in April, and after all states had raised the issue of the vaccine shortage and were grappling with the enormity of second wave. Even Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's letter suggesting the same was rebuffed by none other than India's Health Minister. The approvals should have been given long ago if India was keen in its intent to vaccinate on a war footing - and not when it has become a seller's market.
Fiction 3: The Central Government is playing the role of an effective facilitator to enable more companies to produce vaccines from the early 2020.
Fact: The order placed by the centre in the month of January to the two vaccine manufacturers was only of 1.65 crore doses and the next tranche of funds was released on April 28 - just a month ago! - to the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech for more orders. The government has totally paid Rs 4,745 crore for a total of 34.6 crore doses till date. It is only when all states started to raise questions on the availability that efforts were made to increase capacities. In fact, the Maharashtra government was the first to offer Haffkine Institute for ramping up the production of Covaxin, the approval for which also came in April, after the PM's intervention. All the capacity-building that should have been set in motion alongside building stocks for the country was delayed.
Fiction 4: Compulsory Licensing is not a very attractive option since it is not a 'formula' that matters.
Fact: The fact of the matter is that we call for a patent waiver at the WTO, but here, we discourage Compulsory Licensing. The government will not consider this an attractive option because the formula requires raw materials to be sourced from countries like USA and Germany which again was overlooked by the 'expert committee' and now, to facilitate this, the Foreign Minister is in the USA. An exercise that could have been undertaken lot earlier if ministries didn't choose to work in silos, just like in the case of Vaccine Maitri, which was a good initiative gone awry due to zero advance planning.
Fiction 5 and 6: GoI has merely enabled states to try procuring vaccines on their own, on their explicit requests. The states very well knew the production capacity in the country and what the difficulties are in procuring vaccines directly from abroad. Health is a state subject & the liberalised vaccine policy was a result of the incessant requests being made by the states. The behaviour of some of our leaders, who in spite of full knowledge of the facts on vaccine supply, appear on TV daily and create panic among the people is very unfortunate. This is not the time to play politics.
Fact: The level of made-up 'truths'! States asked for additional stock of vaccines from the government of India on the basis of the Health Minister's claim that there was absolutely no shortage of vaccines. Health is a state subject, but not when the Indian Epidemic Act has been invoked since March 2020, and all treatment and vaccination protocol is coming from the centre. No liberalised vaccine policy in the world has abdicated the central government's responsibility of procurement of vaccine, introduced 3 different costs and the highest rates in the world!
Fiction 7: As of now, no country in the world is giving vaccines to children. However, vaccinating children should not be decided on the basis of panic in Whatsapp groups and because some politicians want to play politics.
Fact: I hope the doctor is aware that America has started to vaccinate children below 18 years of age? We need to safeguard our young against the third wave as all experts worldwide suggest. Pregnant mothers, who are the most vulnerable in the second wave, are still being kept out of the vaccine ambit despite FOGSI and NTEGI making a strong case for it. Even Mumbai Municipal Corporation is all set to role out the programme but is waiting for clearance from the Health Ministry.
So, to Niti Aayog I say, please resist becoming a toolkit for the Government of India's propaganda and do what the circumstances demand you to do and the nation expects from you in this moment of crisis.
(Priyanka Chaturvedi is Member of Rajya Sabha and Deputy Leader Shiv Sena)
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