COVID-19 | National

Give States leeway, boost vaccine production, Manmohan to PM

Former Prime Minister and senior Congress leader Manmohan Singh. File   | Photo Credit: PTI

Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi offering suggestions on fighting the second wave of COVID-19 by ramping up vaccinations efforts, giving more flexibility to State governments to decide on the categories that need to be vaccinated and invoking compulsory licensing provisions to expand the number of vaccine producers.

Dr. Singh said the Centre should publicise orders of vaccine doses placed with different vaccine producers and accepted for delivery over the next six months. He said while the Centre can keep 10% of these expected deliveries for emergency needs, it spell out a distribution plan among State governments based on a transparent formula.

Noting that India has vaccinated a very small fraction of its population, Dr. Singh said the government must scale up vaccination efforts and asserted that with the right policy design, the country can do “much better and very quickly”.

“..States should be given some flexibility to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years of age. For example, States may want to designate school teachers, bus, three-wheeler and taxi drivers, municipal and panchayat staff, and possibly lawyers who have to attend Courts as frontline workers. They can then be vaccinated even if they are below 45,” Dr. Singh said.

Currently, only those who are 45 years and above are eligible for vaccination.

The former Prime Minister’s letter to Mr. Modi is a follow up of Saturday’s deliberations at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) that had decided to offer key suggestions to the government to fight the pandemic.

“At this moment of a public health emergency, the Government of India must pro-actively support vaccine producers to expand their manufacturing facilities quickly by providing funds and other concessions. In addition, I believe this is the time to invoke the compulsory licensing provisions in the law, so that a number of companies are able to produce the vaccines under a licence. This, I recall, had happened earlier in the case of medicines to deal with the HIV/AIDS disease. As far as COVID-19 is concerned, I have read that Israel has already invoked the compulsory licensing provision and there is an overwhelming case for India to do so as well quickly,” he said.

Dr Singh also suggested that any vaccine that has been cleared for use by credible authorities such as the European Medical Agency or the USFDA, should be allowed to be imported for a limited period without insisting on domestic bridging trials.

“We are facing an unprecedented emergency and, I understand, experts are of the view that this relaxation is justified in an emergency. The relaxation could be for a limited period during which the bridging trials could be completed in India,” he said.

The former Prime Minister said he was forwarding his suggestions in a spirit of constructive cooperation in which he has always believed and acted upon.

Dr Singh said that many parents have not seen their children, living in different cities, in over a year; grandparents have not seen their grandchildren, teachers have not seen children in the classroom and many have lost their source of livelihood, and several millions have been pushed back into poverty.

“With the second surge that we are currently witnessing, people are beginning to wonder when their lives will get back to normal,” he said.

Following the letter, former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram tweeted, “Whether the government is open to good suggestions will be known from the action taken on the letter. Also, whether the government is serious about containing the spread of the pandemic will also be known from its response”.

Full text of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh letter to PM Modi

Dear Prime Minister:

It is now over a year since the world, and India, have been grappling with the Covid 19 pandemic. Many parents have not seen their children, living in different cities, in over a year. Grandparents have not seen their grandchildren. Teachers have not seen children in the classroom. Many have lost their source of livelihood, and several millions have been pushed back into poverty. With the second surge that we are currently witnessing, people are beginning to wonder when their lives will get back to normal.

There are many things we must do to fight the epidemic but a big part of this effort must be ramping up the vaccination programme. I have some suggestions in this regard. In making them I want to emphasise that I am putting them forward for your kind consideration in a spirit of constructive cooperation in which I have always believed and acted upon.

First, the government should publicise what are the firm orders for doses placed on different vaccine producers and accepted for delivery over the next six months. If we want to vaccinate a target number in this period, we should place enough orders in advance so that producers can adhere to an agreed schedule of supply.

Second , the government should indicate how this   expected supply will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula. The central government could retain 10 percent for distribution based on emergency needs, but other than that, states should have a clear signal of likely availability so that they can plan their roll out.

Third, states should be given some flexibility to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years of age. For example, states may want to designate school teachers, bus, three-wheeler and taxi drivers, municipal and panchayat staff, and possibly lawyers who have to attend Courts as frontline workers. They can then be vaccinated even if they are below 45.

Fourth, over the past few decades, India has emerged as the largest vaccine producer in the world, thanks to policies adopted by the government and robust intellectual property protection. The capacity is largely in the private sector. At this moment of a public health emergency, the Government of India must proactively support vaccine producers to expand their  manufacturing  facilities  quickly  by providing funds and other concessions. In addition, I believe this is the time to invoke the compulsory licensing provisions in the law, so that a number of companies are able to produce the vaccines under a licence. This, I recall, had happened earlier in the case of medicines to deal with the HIV/AlDS disease. As far as Covid-19 is concerned, I have read that Israel has already invoked the compulsory licensing provision and there is an overwhelming case for India to do so as well quickly.

Fifth, since domestic supplies are limited, any vaccine that has been cleared for use by credible authorities such as the European Medical Agency or the USFDA, should be allowed to be imported without insisting on domestic bridging trials. We are facing an unprecedented emergency and, I understand, experts are of the view that this relaxation is justified in an emergency. The relaxation could be for a limited period during which the bridging trials could be completed in India. All consumers of such vaccines could be duly cautioned that these vaccines are being allowed for use based on the approval granted by the relevant authority abroad.

The key to our fight against Covid 19 must be ramping up the vaccination effort. We must resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated. Currently, India has vaccinated only a small fraction of its population. I am certain that with the right policy design, we can do much better and very quickly.

I hope the government will accept these suggestions immediately and act on them promptly.

With warmest regards,

Yours sincerely,

Read the full letter of Dr. Manmohan Singh

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Printable version | May 19, 2021 5:38:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/covid-19-manmohan-singh-writes-to-pm-modi-stresses-vaccination-key-to-battling-pandemic/article34349665.ece

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