The Modi government has decided to export Covid vaccines free of cost to its neighbours as a ‘goodwill gesture’. Covaxin will be sent to seven countries, including Mongolia, Oman, Myanmar, the Philippines, Bahrain, Maldives and Mauritius, while Covishield is being sent to Bhutan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Seychelles. The government will procure the vaccines for export through the government-run pharmaceutical company, HLL Lifecare Limited. The country had exported hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) last year through the same company to many other countries. India plans to offer 20 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to its neighbours, once again showcasing how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s war against the Wuhan virus has been guided by the abiding principles of “India First” and “Neighbourhood First”.
The cumulative number of healthcare workers vaccinated against the coronavirus touched 6.31 lakhs in the first four days itself, through 11,660 sessions. Of the total people vaccinated against Covid-19 so far, 0.18 percent experienced adverse events following immunisation, while 0.002 percent had to be hospitalised, which is fairly low. Hence, concerns about adverse effects and serious problems post-immunisation as of now are unfounded and negligible, with both the “Made in India” vaccines being completely safe.
On 16 January 2021, India, the world’s largest democracy, with a population of 1.38 billion people, kickstarted the world›s largest Covid vaccination drive, with 2.07 lakh people vaccinated in a single day across 3,351 sessions and with the help of 16,755 vaccinators. What makes India›s vaccination drive against Covid unique is the sheer size, scale and meticulous planning of this mammoth exercise, guided by the humanitarian concept of “Jan Bhagidari” or people’s participation. The plan is to inoculate 300 million or 30 crore “priority population” in the first two phases by July-August 2021, including 3 crore healthcare and frontline Covid workers in the next three months in the first phase itself. Inoculating 300 million people within six to seven months is akin to vaccinating almost the whole of America or vaccinating the combined populations of Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and France, in record time!
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while laying the foundation stone of a new battalion campus of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) near Bhadravathi in Shivamogga district, recently summed up the crux of India›s gigantic pushback against Covid when he said, “India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fought the most successful battle against coronavirus in the world, and with the beginning of the vaccination drive, the country has taken the fight against the pandemic to a final stage”.
“The whole world has been fighting against the coronavirus for about a year, many people have lost lives. This was probably one of the toughest fights that humanity has fought, using knowledge, innovations and mutual cooperation,” Shah further added.
India has reported less than 20,000 daily cases over the past 10 days and less than 300 daily deaths for the last 23 days, pushing the national recovery rate to a solid 96.58 percent and the case fatality rate (CFR) to just 1.4 percent, the lowest globally. The active caseload now is less than 1.98 percent and the daily positivity rate is also pretty low, at barely 1.8 percent. India›s cumulative positivity rate is hardly 5.6 percent, which is commendable given that many states in America like Florida and Connecticut are still reporting daily positivity rates as high as 8.55 percent. It is indeed noteworthy that despite having a density of population of 455 per sq km, amongst the highest in the world, India has tested over 170 million people and done an extraordinary job of reining in the total number of cases at 10.6 million. In sharp contrast, the USA, with a population density of just 36 per sq km, has reported a staggering 24.3 million coronavirus cases and 163 percent higher deaths than in India.
The Modi government has built a war kitty of 2,360 master trainers, 61,000 programme managers, 2 lakh vaccinators and 3.7 lakh vaccination team members so far. The Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech›s Covaxin, which it has developed with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), are homegrown vaccines that vindicate PM Modi›s clarion call of “Vocal for Local” and are reflective of the country›s immense innovative and scientific temper. Both the vaccines have been approved by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI).
The Modi government has procured 11 million doses of Covishield at a cost of Rs 200 per dose, exclusive of taxes. Of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, the number is 5.5 million doses, of which 1.65 million doses are being procured free of cost, and the remaining 3.85 million doses are being purchased at a cost of Rs 295 per dose. In effect, India›s vaccine roll-out is not only the largest in the world, but also the most affordable, with no compromises whatsoever on any standard operating procedures (SOPs). The PM-Cares fund will bear the entire cost of the first phase, which will inoculate 3 crore frontline Covid workers. Earlier, in June 2020, over Rs 2000 crore had been allocated from the PM-Cares fund for the supply of 50,000 ‘Made-in-India’ ventilators to government-run Covid hospitals in all states and UTs. Out of the 50,000 ventilators, 30,000 ventilators were manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited, again showcasing India›s indigenous manufacturing prowess. While a jaded, directionless and clueless Rahul Gandhi keeps taking needless jibes at the Modi government, the fact of the matter is that for over six decades, India just had 47,000 ventilators, whereas in one go, in June 2020, the Modi government made available 50,000 ventilators to ensure that no life is lost for want of life-saving equipment.
PM Modi›s food security scheme for the needy, called the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKAY), provided free ration to 81 crore people every single month, for nine months in a row, during the pandemic. Effectively speaking, this means that a population 2.5 times the size of America was fed every month, showcasing the Modi government’s generous, welfarist and people-centric approach.
Contrast the policy of obfuscation and apathy followed by China with the probity and transparency shown by India in taking Covid head-on. Be it building over 116 million toilets under the «Clean India›› or «Swachh Bharat» mission, making India›s 5.5 lakh villages open defecation-free (ODF), giving free health insurance to 50 crore Indians under the «Ayushman Bharat» scheme, producing over 60 million PPE kits and 150 million N95 masks in 2020, bringing home over 3.9 million stranded Indians from different parts of the globe via the “Vande Bharat Mission”, or extending medical and humanitarian assistance to over 150 countries in the fight against the pandemic, the Modi government›s fight against the Wuhan virus was made easier by the fact that a huge amount of effort has gone into ramping up India›s health infrastructure and making cleanliness a way of life in the last 6.5 years.
What is worth mentioning here is that, during the initial days of the Covid outbreak, there was only one lab in the country that could undertake testing for the infection. But today there are over 2000 testing laboratories. Punjab’s case fatality remains at 3.20, amongst the highest in the country. Meanwhile, Maharashtra, which has recorded the highest number of Covid deaths in India, has the second highest CFR of 2.56. Had it not been for the high Covid fatality rates from these two states, India›s CFR of 1.4 percent would have been even lower. Maharashtra, which is currently a non-BJP-ruled state and is led by a Congress-centric alliance, is, in fact, one of the worst performing states, having reported close to 50,000 deaths already. Despite having just 8 percent of India›s population, Maharashtra accounts for almost 33 percent of India›s Covid-related fatalities, showcasing how a poor and lethargic leadership can be a bane during a global health crisis. In sharp contrast, Uttar Pradesh, a BJP-ruled state, which has a massive population of over 200 million people and is almost the same size as Brazil, has reported less that 8,600 deaths. Brazil, in the meanwhile, has reported over 2.1 lakh mortalities.
The Modi government›s massive vaccine roll-out plan has put in place an end-to-end traceability mechanism with RFID and barcoding to secure and monitor the supply chain, transportation and distribution, right from the manufacturing facility to the time the patient is inoculated. Automated data loggers that monitor storage temperature and transfer messages every three seconds to a central unit under tight surveillance 24/7 have been deployed. The mega immunisation drive may see high-speed vehicles transporting the vaccines, secured by rifle-wielding escorts on the outside and highly secure Internet of things (IoT)-enabled locking system from the inside, to prevent theft and counterfeiting.
More importantly, there is the Modi government›s CoWIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network), with 80 lakh beneficiaries from the first priority list already registered on the app. The CoWIN platform is owned by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and was earlier the platform used for conducting Pulse Polio and other crucial and highly successful immunisation programmes across the country. The same platform has been expanded for doling out Covid-19 vaccines and the Ministry of Electronics and IT along with the National Informatics Centre are handling the backend and the tech infrastructure for it. CoWIN is again an example of how the Modi government has seamlessly embraced technology to ensure last mile delivery. When it does become open to everyone, it will have four modules—user administrator, beneficiary registration, vaccination and beneficiary acknowledgement, and status updation. The CoWIN app is likely to be made accessible to the general public for registration by the end of March-April 2021. The idea behind the CoWIN app is to create a digital health behemoth. The CoWIN app has two parts: one that will be used by the beneficiary and the other that will be a back-end module to be used by vaccinators.
To cut to the chase, if 2020 was a year that tested the human will to survive, 2021 is slated to be the year that will heal the world and restore faith in the ability of leaders who are both courageous and compassionate. «Good governance is not firefighting or crisis management. Instead of opting for ad-hoc solutions, the need of the hour is to tackle the root cause of the problems››, as a famous quote by PM Modi goes. Better words have not been said. Undoubtedly, India›s outstanding and successful war against Covid will go down in history as a textbook case of what a sensitive and nimble footed leadership can accomplish.
It would be apt to conclude with a quote by John F. Kennedy, who said, “When written in Chinese, the word ‹crisis› is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” Undoubtedly, while a reckless China foisted the Wuhan virus on an unsuspecting mankind, a visionary leader like PM Modi utilised this unprecedented global crisis as an opportunity to reach out to and heal millions, both in India and outside, showcasing India›s true spirit of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, which means that “the world is one family”.
The writer is an economist, national spokesperson for the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.