Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi if the decision to export COVID-19 vaccine was an ‘oversight’ or an effort to garner publicity at the cost of Indian citizens.
In a letter dated April 8 but released by the Congress on Friday, Mr. Gandhi asked for an immediate moratorium on exports as he claimed “the country is facing vaccine starvation” and asked the government to open up vaccination to everyone who needs it. He said the government should double the ₹35,000 crore allocation for the vaccination programme.
Taking a dig at Mr. Modi, whose photo appears in a vaccine certificate, the Congress leader said the vaccination program should move from having “an individual’s picture on the vaccine certificate towards guaranteeing maximum vaccination”.
Offering several suggestions to move towards universal vaccination, the former Congress chief said he was proud that his party built a framework in the past 70 years that has made India a vaccine hub of the world.
He said there is “no clear reason” why the government allowed large scale export of over 6 crore doses.
“Was the export of vaccines also an ‘oversight’, like many other decisions of this government, or an effort to garner publicity at the cost of our own citizens?” asked Mr. Gandhi, adding that India lost the first mover advantage despite scientists and researchers working overtime to offer a solution.
“The State governments are repeatedly highlighting vaccine shortages only to receive intemperate statements by the Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare targeting Opposition-ruled States, undercutting cooperative federalism which you too have stressed as essential.”
The Congress leader claimed despite abundant experience in designing and executing some of the world’s biggest vaccination programmes, India has managed to fully vaccinate less than 1% of the population in three months while countries with sizeable populations have managed to vaccinate relatively many more people.
“At our current vaccination rate, it would take years to inoculate 75% of the population. This will have catastrophic effects and will gravely decelerate the economy,” he said.
Mr. Gandhi said “centralisation and individualised propaganda are counter productive”.
“Though public health is a state subject, our States have been bypassed right from vaccine procurement to registration. Additionally, a large section of the poor have been excluded due to the initial mandatory online registration.”
To scale up vaccination efforts, Mr. Gandhi suggested the government provide necessary resources to vaccine suppliers to increase manufacturing capacity, fast track approval of other vaccines as per norms and guidelines and open up vaccination to everyone who needs it.
Allowing State governments to have a greater say in vaccine procurement and distribution and offering direct income support to the vulnerable sections in the disastrous second wave were among his other suggestions.
“I reiterate our unstinted support to the vaccination programme and hope these suggestions will be considered expediently,” he said.