Another beginning: On vaccine vigilance

As India grapples with a vaccine shortage, the Drug Controller General of India has formally approved another vaccine candidate — Sputnik V — under emergency use authorisation. Since January, India’s vaccination strategy has hinged almost entirely on Covishield — the AstraZeneca vaccine — and to a very limited extent, Covaxin. Another significant move by the government is in allowing foreign-made vaccines approved by regulatory agencies in the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Japan or those that find mention in the World Health Organization’s list of approved emergency use vaccines which can avoid conducting a local clinical trial but opt for a parallel bridging trial post-approval. Last year, Pfizer had approached Indian regulators for permission but a sticking point was over this question of the conduct of local trials. It is important to note that bridging trials are critical. A vaccine that is approved in a different country may have untoward effects in another population. Past learnings

A small step: On abortion law amendments

Emancipation is seldom a linear progression to the finish; the hurdles are many, some entrenched in the mind. The passing of amendments to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in India recently is a step forward in recognising the rights of women, but is no giant leap. It does push the envelope way past how far the now antediluvian MTP Act of 1971 went, primarily by allowing the termination of pregnancy beyond 24 weeks if there are foetal anomalies. However, it also sets the decision on the shoulders of a medical board formed by State governments for this specific purpose. The amended Act also allows the termination of pregnancy until 20 weeks based on the opinion of one qualified doctor, an improvement from the consensus between the two doctors clause that was previously required. As per the amendment, unmarried women can also terminate their pregnancy, and by replacing the word ‘husband’ with the word ‘partner’, it, for the first time, takes the dialogue outside the

Salvaging strategy: On scaling up COVID-19 vaccinations

India’s aggressive second wave of coronavirus infections marked by over 1,50,000 cases a day and many deaths is clearly the result of irrational exuberance early in the new year. After prematurely assuming that COVID-19 was virtually over, governments made rash decisions to allow large religious gatherings and political campaigns with little regard for disease control. The lapse is now threatening a nascent economic recovery. Rather than view the crisis as a political setback, the government should focus on a mitigation strategy that will not hobble the economy, while stopping the wildfire spread of the virus. A key intervention would be to protect the labour force through a scaling up of vaccinations in industry and workplaces. Employers must also be encouraged to retain or opt for staggered working hours and work-from-home protocols. The national vaccination strategy, however, remains inscrutable and non-transparent, since more vaccines, including WHO-approved ones, remain


Save the deal: On U.S. and Iran resolving nuclear crisis

The Vienna talks between the remaining members of the Iran nuclear deal — China, Russia, the U.K., France, Germany and Iran — have raised hopes for the revival of the agreement from which then President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. in May 2018. After the initial round of talks, European and Iranian diplomats have said efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the deal is officially called, are on “the right track”. An American delegation, led by Robert Malley, the White House special envoy for Iran, is also in Vienna, though the Americans and the Iranians would not hold direct talks. All sides agree that bringing the deal back on track is ideal, but who will blink first? The U.S. wants Iran to end its uranium enrichment and centrifuge development programmes and return to the 2015 agreement, while Tehran has demanded the U.S. lift all sanctions imposed by Mr. Trump and still enforced by President Joe Biden. The agenda at Vienna, therefore, is to


Wrong shots: On West Bengal poll violence

Five people were killed on Saturday during the fourth phase of polls in West Bengal, where the first three phases were largely eventless. While one person was allegedly killed by political rivals, four others were killed when security personnel fired more than 15 rounds in a span of two hours at Cooch Behar’s Sitalkuchi Assembly constituency. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has concluded that the police action was necessary, and taken in “self defence,” but the political storm kicked up by the episode continues to rage. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has alleged a conspiracy by the BJP to scare her supporters and called for the resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah. Mr. Shah, in turn, has said the Chief Minister’s call to gherao personnel of the Central security forces led to the flare-up. The Trinamool Congress has alleged that Central forces are restricting it and helping the BJP in the campaign. It is unclear whether the force used to control the mob was proportionate and

Enforcing claims: On U.S. challenging India’s maritime rights

A disturbing order: ASI survey in Gyanvapi mosque

Time tests ties: On India-Russia relations

Staying accommodative: on RBI keeping interest rates unchanged

Falling short: on India's vaccine programme

Fits and starts: On India-Pakistan dialogue process

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