One billion doses: PM Modi must get full credit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be given full credit for the feat India has achieved of administering one Billion doses to Indian citizens. Although healthcare workers and the entire administration must get the credit, there was one man behind all of them who believed this was possible despite serious doubts raised by opposition and critics. And this was Narendra Modi. He kept inspiring people amidst chaos and ensured that the administration was totally focused on the target.

While critics kept raising asking how would illiterate population that did not have smart phones register under Co-win App and how could infrastructure be created overnight to administer the vaccine, Modi had immense trust that people would come forward and script India’s success story. While opposition parties were criticizing, he was working with scientists and bureaucrats and trying to tie-up the loose ends, learning from mistakes and applying correctives.

Debates after debates BJP spokespersons would be asked how would the Government achieve this impossible task. They asserted that when the Government had announced the target this would be achieved. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that India would be able to vaccinate citizens only by end of 2024, whereas, the Government asserted it would do so by end of December 2021. Modi always works to a plan and his dateline has been proved to be correct. By 21 October, the One Billion doses mark was already achieved. By end of December the country would add many more millions.

The Prime Minister never takes credit. He has always given credit to citizens for the country’s progress. While addressing the nation on Friday, Modi gave full credit to all those who made the world’s largest vaccination programme successful. He thanked, in particular, the health workers who took extra efforts to achieve the task. This gratitude to them and to people was there even in his mann ki baat on Sunday.

Modi described the vaccination programme as “a journey from anxiety to assurance that has made the country stronger” despite efforts by sections of opinion to create distrust. That this feat was achieved in nine months very few could imagine. But this was made possible because he trusted science and scientist and did not allow politics to deter their approach.

While addressing health workers in January this year in Varanasi, the Lok Sabha seat he represents, Modi had brushed aside criticism over emergency use of Covaxin produced by Bharat Biotech. He described the scientists as modern rishis who had worked day and night to devise the elixir for saving lives.

Modi clarified that he was guided completely by advice of scientists and not by what was said by political parties. “And when the go-ahead from the scientists came, we had to decide from where to start. Then we decided to start from health workers who remain in contact with patients constantly,” he told a gathering of health workers. During his address on Friday he said: “It is a matter of pride for us that India’s vaccination programme has been science-born, science-driven and science-based.”

Vaccination drive was launched on 16 January 2021 with target of inoculating three crore health workers and front-line workers. This proved to be a smart move to reduce vaccine hesitancy since people get convinced when doctors and health workers take the vaccine, Modi acknowledged. This helped them save many lives without fearing their own lives while treating patients during the second wave.

Now the task may appear easy, but the context should not be forgotten. It was efforts of these scientists that India developed its own vaccine and also became the centre for manufacturing the other one- Covishield. When more than a hundred countries are awaiting supply of vaccine to them to tide over the crisis, India is on the verge of a recovery that has become a shining example to the world. The WHO has lauded this achievement and given full credit to the political leadership.

When the Union Government had told the Court that it would have enough vaccine to inoculate 93-94 crore adults by the end of the year, the Supreme Court had sought a roadmap. Actually, very few were ready to believe that more than 900 million (90 crore) people would get the vaccine by the year end.

The liberalised vaccination procurement framework issued in April last month was based on scientific analysis of global best practices, SoPs of WHO and recommendations of experts. This allowed larger role for private players and gave operational flexibility to States. Besides procuring vaccine from indigenous manufacturers they could also seek vaccine directly from foreign vendors.

This met demand of various states for more power since Health is a state subject. Some States had promised free vaccines and were trying to project central government in poor light without realising that vaccine was in short supply. When some of the States floated global tenders, they did not get the response due to this very fact. Some vaccine manufacturers told the states that they would deal only with the Federal Government.

Rather than trying to do politics over vaccine they should have merely executed the vaccination drive. If they were sincere in their efforts, they could have remitted to the Centre the expenses for free vaccine promised. Their criticisms and approach demonstrated that they were merely trying to score political point. Their propensity to find fault with every decision taken by the Prime Minister created confusion and panic all around.

Some mavericks said that the Centre should invoke compulsory licensing and allow other players to make vaccine hardly realising that making Covid-19 vaccine required lot of bio-safety measures which others were not equipped with. The solution was to increase capabilities of existing manufacturers which was an easier option.

While explaining this Niti Ayog member VK Paul had cited the example of Moderna, a US pharma giant. Moderna had said (October 2020) that it would not sue company which makes its vaccines but not a single company did this. Vaccine making is not an easy process, he had explained.

Imagine the contradiction between a chief minister sitting in Delhi or Maharashtra talking about vaccine like an expert and the Prime Minister talking to world experts and leader on vaccine availability and administration and trying to devise strategy for the country. Who was better equipped knowledge wise or by the capabilities to decide? The former was only waving swords in the air without any knowledge or competence whereas, the real fire-fighting was done by the latter through cold calculated steps.

It is only after some opposition ruled States raised their hands in sheer desperation and created an impression that the task was impossible that the Prime Minister announced free vaccine for all and allowed private players to cater to those who were willing to pay. The opposition had created a mess of the situation and it was clear that they were not able to rise to the occasion. People were upset and angry and these States were trying to shift the blame to the Centre on one pretext or the other. While opposition attitude reflected contempt and derision of Indian efforts, the Prime Minister’s attitude reflected trust and confidence.

The opposition was found in the race to undermine India’s own vaccine. When Covaxin was declared as India’s answer to search for vaccine, the opposition questioned its efficacy without knowing that this was the amrit that would save people. They questioned emergency use authorisation without realising that these were Indian scientists who had recommended this and not PM Modi.

While Indian scientists rejoiced and the country felt proud, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor questioned saying this would be dangerous to use Covaxin. Questioning the Emergency use approval of Covaxin, former Union Minister, Manish Tiwary had said, “if the vaccine is so safe and reliable and efficacy of the vaccine is beyond question then how is it that not a single functionary of the government has stepped forward to get themselves vaccinated as it has happened in other countries around the world?”

One Congress leader from Bihar asked why had the Prime Minister not taken the jab first even when Modi had announced that nobody would jump the queue. The Prime Minister pointed out on Friday that the vaccine driver had kept the VIP culture away. Those who were eligible got the jab first. Others despite their political clout waited in the queue for their turn.

Samajwadi Party leader and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh has crossed all limits of valid criticisms by terming the vaccine as BJP vaccine and declaring that he would not take the vaccine. This is what he said: “Main toh nahi lagwaunga abhi vaccine. Maine apni baat keh di. Aur woh bhi BJP lagayegi uska bharosa karunga main? Arre, jao bhai. Arre, apni sarkar ayegi, sabko free vaccine lagegi. Hum BJP ka vaccine nahin lagwa sakte (I will not get the vaccine now. I am telling you about myself. Am I going to trust a vaccine given by the BJP? Oh, get lost. When our government comes, everyone will get the vaccine free)”.

How ridiculous one can become was evident when Samajwadi Party MLC Ashutosh Sinha said that people might become impotent after taking Covid vaccine. Rumours were spread that vaccine intended to decrease population of some community.

All these increased vaccine hesitancy so much that people were often seen running away from health-workers deployed to inoculate them. Some delayed taking the jab for the fear that this would harm them. India’s vaccination programme and its success now must be seen in this context. There was one man who has been absolutely sure of science and his people. The world knows who he has been.

But there is no time to relax. One that the drive must be stepped up to bring all under vaccine drive as soon as possible. The festivals season, the country is witnessing, is a testing time. If proper care is taken and people keep taking the Covid protocols seriously, India would come out of the pandemic and move on to a faster economic recovery. The Prime Minister has appealed to people to make wearing mask a routine of their life. Just following this simple routine will save life until everyone gets fully vaccinated.

The festival season the country is witnessing, is a testing time. If proper care is taken and people keep taking the Covid protocols seriously, India would come out of the pandemic and move on to a faster economic recovery. The Prime Minister has appealed to people to make wearing mask a routine of their life. Just following this simple routine will save life until everyone gets fully vaccinated.

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