Coronavirus | Opeds and editorials

The vaccination milestone and a distant goal

Our frontline health-care workers deserve our fulsome congratulations for crossing the milestone of 100 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses. They, along with our scientists, researchers, medical professionals, and vaccine manufacturers, have heroically overcome multiple obstacles in the quest to protect our citizens from COVID-19. Thanks to their efforts, our vaccination drive has picked up pace after the initial months of delay, indecision, and confusion.

This milestone also marks the triumph of science and of India’s research and manufacturing infrastructure built and nurtured over decades. It is opportune to recollect that it is the Patents Act, 1970, that contributed hugely to the development of our drugs and pharmaceutical industry, which has enabled India to become a globally respected manufacturer of vaccines.

In pictures | India celebrates 100-crore COVID-19 vaccine doses mark

The shock of the second wave

This jubilant mood though must not give way to complacency. It is still fresh in our memory how the Prime Minister told the Chief Ministers early in April that “we defeated COVID-19 without vaccines”. Just months earlier, before the disastrous second wave triggered by premature claims of success and unregulated large gatherings, punctured these claims, he had boasted at the World Economic Forum how well prepared India was to cope with the pandemic, defying the dire predictions of several international experts. With complacency firmly in command, vaccine procurement was not prioritised and crucial efforts, including ensuring supply of oxygen in case of a surge of infections, were neglected. The public also dropped its guard believing the Government’s reassurance. As we all know, disastrous consequences followed, and lakhs of Indians paid with their lives.

Even as the Prime Minister has heralded in his usual self-promotional style the 100-crore vaccination mark — even though there are only two countries in the world that are called upon to reach this level of coverage and we were not the first to do so — the harsh truth is that the second wave was a colossal tragedy that could have been averted had the Government not let down the people of India. During that horrific, difficult time, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister were nowhere to be seen or heard but reappeared only when the situation improved. This was a repeat of their performance during the first wave, when, after the sudden announcement of the lockdown, lakhs of migrant workers were abandoned, left to themselves to trudge thousands of kilometres home to their villages. Untold numbers perished along the way.

The nation has not forgotten the heart-rending images of people gasping for breath and of families desperately trying to obtain oxygen and hospital beds. Their enormous suffering is seared in our memory through pictures of bodies scattered in riverbanks and floating on rivers. The Government is yet to give an accurate count of the number of people who died as a result of its negligence. Callously, the Government has yet to provide compensation to bereaved families. Instead, the powers that be have stubbornly doubled down on efforts to divert attention and pass on the blame to others. The Government clearly hopes that denial will cause people to absolve it of responsibility for their miseries.

 

Vaccine orders

We applaud science, but we know that our vaccination drive would have rolled out faster if the Government had respected scientific breakthroughs in other countries and placed adequate orders for their vaccines. Indeed, the situation would have been mitigated had the Government had the foresight to place orders with India’s own leading vaccine manufacturer. The Government’s initial “smart” vaccination strategy asserted that “there would be no requirement for vaccination of the whole population of the country”. Thus, India, the biggest manufacturer of vaccines in the world — a status achieved long before May 2014 — only fully vaccinated 0.5% of its population ahead of the second wave.

Editorial | Scripting history: On 100 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses

Another misstep

The intensity of the second wave demonstrated how wrong the Government’s vaccination strategy was. But the blunders were compounded as the Government rolled out a procurement policy that had cash-strapped States competing with each other over vaccine supply. Sustained pressure from State governments, the Supreme Court of India, Opposition parties, the scientific community, and civil society helped tide over some missteps.

Unfortunately, the Government continues to treat the fight against COVID-19 as an event management exercise. The Prime Minister’s birthday saw a record two crore inoculations, partly achieved by hoarding vaccines in the run-up to the day to shore up numbers for the ‘event’. Such vanity is inexcusable. It demonstrates that India has the capacity to vaccinate at a faster rate, but for some inexplicable reason the Government has chosen not to. The Government should answer a simple question: if two crore can be vaccinated on one chosen day, why not every day?

 

The gaps in vaccination

In the nine months since we started the vaccination drive, we have only been able to fully vaccinate less than a third of our adult population. Countries with comparable COVID-19 figures and even those with smaller or poorer economies have performed much better. Even if manufacturers ramp up production rapidly, our vaccination rate will fail to catch up. In the first three weeks of October it was 50 lakh doses a day. This rate will have to be tripled to inoculate all eligible adults by year-end.

Not only that, the gap between the proportion of the population that has got at least one dose and two doses is widest in India. This gap is likely a result of domestic supply falling short of the demand. The Government refuses to explore diverse methods, including compulsory licensing, to raise our domestic production of vaccines. Moreover, the Government is yet to roll out a plan to inoculate our children who could be particularly vulnerable to future waves. We must protect our children urgently so they can go back to school. India has had one of the longest school shutdowns worldwide and the damage to their education and growth has been incalculable.

 

We are also concerned about people’s immunity waning over time in spite of having been vaccinated or infected. But the Government has dealt with queries about booster shoots with complete opaqueness. It must work out a plan, based on scientific advice, for booster shots, like other countries have done. Most importantly, scientific procedures need to be adhered to during approval and procurement of vaccines. Truth and transparency should be the hallmark of government actions and communication with the public to avoid any vaccine hesitancy.

A shift in policy

The Prime Minister likes to emphasise that vaccines are free, while conveniently forgetting that they have always been free. It is the Bharatiya Janata Party government that moved away from India’s universal free vaccination policy. A significant section of the population was forced to pay for vaccines as government centres ran out of them. Many better-off citizens pooled in money to ensure the poor could get vaccinated. While commendable, this is an indictment of the Government, which shifted its responsibility to citizens and the private sector. Not even 10% of our population can afford to pay for vaccines, yet the Government continues to allocate 25% of vaccines to the private sector. This is unacceptable — resulting in less, not more vaccination.

 

In May 2021, the Government announced that all eligible Indians would be doubly vaccinated by the end of 2021. This hollow announcement has not been accompanied by either appropriate planning or execution. Experts assert that we will miss this target by at least five to six months. The Government must realise that vaccinating all Indians as quickly as possible is linked to not only the health of our citizens but also the wealth of our nation.

The floundering economy can be turned around if we can drive away the dark clouds of COVID-19. That requires us to ramp up the pace of the roll out of vaccines to all, completely free, including to our children. That is our best hope to protect our citizens, put our children back in school, revive our markets and have a cascading positive impact across sectors, thus ushering in the festive season and the new year with genuine optimism.

Sonia Gandhi is the President of the Indian National Congress


Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 4:24:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-vaccination-milestone-and-a-distant-goal/article37181036.ece

In This Package
Boosters short: On third COVID-19 vaccination dose
The Omicron response is not making sense
Limited gains: On Omicron risk
Scale up supplies: On Omicron variant
What the Omicron variant means for India
Learning from the best in India’s COVID-19 fight
Focus on full vaccination: On India’s COVID-19 inoculation pace
India needs to sign up for life-course immunisation
Strengthening vaccine trust
A reminder from SARS-CoV-2
You are reading
The vaccination milestone and a distant goal
Responding to adversity with achievement
Scripting history: On 100 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses
Vigilance, vaccination and endemic COVID-19
A flicker of hope: On declining COVID-19 numbers
Vital relief: On COVID-19 death compensation
A spike: On records and COVID-19 vaccination coverage
Cracking the whip: On Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates
Should children be given COVID-19 jabs?
The lag between jabs: On Covishield gap
Back at school: On student safety
Breakthrough challenge: On vaccines and the virus variants
The prognosis for school reopenings
Effectiveness of vaccines
Kerala’s rising COVID-19 cases explained
Learning safely: On schools reopening
A surfeit of sero surveys
Curbing Delta: On the variant that drives India’s COVID-19 infections
Focusing on diseases sidelined by COVID-19
Lessons from India’s all-cause mortality data
Safe at school: On getting students back on campus
The importance of the booster dose to plan ahead
A call for improving civil registration systems
Pandemic of distrust: On resisting COVID-19 vaccination
Vaccinating the young: On priority groups
A serosurvey template for the whole of India
Making decisions under stress
Dealing with denial: On playing down the COVID-19 tragedy
A cardinal omission in the COVID-19 package
Rising again: On global rise of fresh COVID-19 cases
Ramping up supply: On COVID-19 vaccination woes
Upholding trust in vaccination
Caution and optimism: On preventing the third wave
Countering the next wave of COVID-19
Stopping the surge: On unlock and the next COVID-19 wave
A welcome spike: On India’s COVID-19 vaccination record
A time to give: On ex-gratia compensation to families of COVID-19 victims
Focus on COVID-19 estimated deaths
What needs to be done with vaccines
Counting the dead: On measuring excess deaths
Refocused vaccination campaigns are possible
Bring genomic sequencing into the pandemic fight
Preparing for the next COVID-19 wave
Connecting the dots to mitigate a third wave
The red flags on the trail of the virus
Behaviorial change can reduce transmission
Adverse changes, federalism imperilled
Close the vaccination gap, in global lockstep
Only a global effort can tame COVID-19
Addressing vaccine hesitancy
Naturally, selection: On vaccinating the vulnerable in 18+ group
Vaccination is our only weapon
Extending safety: On deferring second dose of COVID-19 vaccine
The AIDS fight offers a COVID vaccine patent pathway
The basics of an effective vaccine policy
Using all options: On Covaxin licensing
State action: On Centre’s role in COVID-19 fight
COVID mishandling foretold in the Budget
A matter of concern: On Indian coronavirus variant
Vaccine skirmishes: On production of COVID-19 vaccine
Lockdown gains: On need to augment health system
Social murder and the missing state
A CT scan for COVID merits a word of caution
To stop a third wave, India has to mask up
Is the government committed to vaccine equity?
Salutary steps: On Election Commission norms to curb COVID-19 spread
Shortage and wastage: On cutting vaccine wastage
Gasping for air, gasping for answers
Misinformed and misleading
Right priorities: On U.S. COVID-19 aid to India
A patently wrong regime
Tips for managing COVID-19 at home: the dos & don’ts
Undermining ‘vaccination for all’
Another wave spells more nutrition loss
Unfair and dangerous: On vaccine inequity
Viral load: On lockdowns, lives and livelihoods
The road ahead in India’s augmented vaccination drive
Infernal infernos: On hospital fires amid the pandemic
Too little: On the Election Commission’s COVID-19 curbs
India’s COVID crisis — when difficult became worse
A descent into disillusionment and chaos
Open and safe: On Modi government’s vaccination policy
A recipe for vaccine inequity
Vaccine diplomacy that needs specific clarifications
On the trail of the second wave’s dynamics
How can India contain the second wave?
Lessons from the first wave
Examination priorities: On annual exams amid the pandemic
The secrecy around deaths after vaccination
Indian universities need immediate vaccination
Lessons from COVID-19
The second wave: On why new COVID-19 vaccines should be cleared
Weighing in on the saga of a vaccine
Rising poverty: On pandemic-induced disparities
A booster shot for India’s vaccination plan
Allaying concerns: On public trust and vaccination programmes
A moral test: On the vaccine divide
Efficacious too: On Covaxin
Sustaining the drive: On COVID-19 vaccination phase 2
Vaccine inequities: On need to vaccinate all above 45
Addressing vaccine reluctance and policy hesitancy
Redefining the exit plan for COVID-19
Boosting confidence: On need for efficient use of COVID-19 vaccine stocks
Opening up the vaccine market
Origin and spread: On the source of SARS-CoV-2
New questions: On COVID-19 infecting one-fifth of Indian population
A year on, mind the gaps in the pandemic response
Should Board exams be conducted in one go this year?
No to vaccine nationalism, yes to global cooperation
Tempered optimism: On India’s sliding COVID-19 graph
The best shot against COVID-19
More vaccines than takers
Managing the rollout: On addressing vaccine hesitancy
Injecting confidence: On India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
Vaccine optimism and the scientific uncertainty link
Building trust in vaccines
The debilitating side-effect of a flawed vaccine trial
Gearing up: On vaccines and public trust
A hurried gamble: On vaccines and transparency
The second dose: On COVID-19 vaccine
A constant vigil: On the new coronavirus strain in India
Unmasked, reflections on the pandemic and life
Caution pays: On Centre’s COVID-19 surveillance guidelines
Towards an effective vaccination distribution policy
Essential dry run: On COVID-19 vaccination drive
COVID-19 and limits of political accountability
The purpose of a vaccine
Clear the fog, draw up a clear vaccination policy
Rein in the vaccine nationalism, the profiteering
In vaccine race last lap, the key steps for India
The storage tale of two vaccines
T-cell immunity and COVID-19
COVID-19, climate and carbon neutrality
Signs of easing: On India’s COVID-19 fight
Has India passed the COVID-19 peak?
Sooner, better: On indigenously developed COVID-19 test kits
The battered Puja economy
Outline of a pandemic fight, by and for citizens
Pandemics and the collective consciousness
Vaccines with a global common good guarantee
Saving lives under the long shadow of the pandemic
Until vaccine: On Unlock 5
The challenge of changing health behaviour
Weighing the costs: On COVID-19 vaccine
The slow and frustrating journey of recovering from COVID-19
Health worker safety deserves a second look
Unlocking campuses: On UGC’s revised academic calendar
Recovery from COVID-19 can be a struggle
Uniting to combat COVID-19
Coronavirus fears and preconception advice
An agriculture-led revival as flawed claim
A necessary pause: On the COVID-19 vaccine race
The uncertainties over COVID-19 numbers
The challenges in counting the dead
COVID-19 deaths may be higher than reported
The many challenges in estimating deaths
Alone at the top: On India’s COVID-19 numbers
The participants we need in Phase 3 trials
Differential impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown
More than a vaccine, it is about vaccination
COVID-19 and a country club India must leave
A quest for order amid cyber insecurity
Adopting a public systems approach to COVID-19
Milestone of a million: On India’s COVID-19 numbers
Testing times: On university exams
Predictions, pandemics and public health
It’s time to flatten the pandemic stereotyping
Viral outrage only spikes the data
Sending the right message
Needed: Clear testing data
The social contract needs to be rewritten
The pandemic is about eyes shut
Joblessness and opportunity in Tamil Nadu
Green-lighting ecological decimation amidst a pandemic
COVID-19 has no religion
A case for extension: On rural jobs scheme
Surely, even if slowly: On a COVID-19 vaccine
Bend it like Italy: On flattening the COVID-19 curve
Promise and delivery: On India’s first COVID-19 vaccine
States hold the key: On Unlock 2.0
PCR testing is a double-edged sword
Science vs nonsense: On Patanjali’s COVID-19 claim
Shut and open: On tennis during the pandemic
The perils of follow the leader syndrome
The many questions about Favipiravir
In new lockdown, a second chance for Tamil Nadu
United front in Delhi: On Kejriwal government-Centre camaraderie
A prescription of equitable and effective care
Multilateralism post COVID-19
Making public transport safe during COVID-19
A better rate: On COVID-19 recovery
Look back in relief: On the migrant labour crisis
Needed, a transfusion for public health care
Wrong priorities: On keeping religious places open during a pandemic
Crossing the line: On Delhi’s decision to limit health services
Profit, not profiteering: On regulation of COVID-19 testing charges
In Persian Gulf littoral, cooperative security is key
Paging the private sector in the COVID fight
Curves and recoveries: On India’s coronavirus numbers
India’s Parliament is missing in action
Axing the economy’s trunk
Scripting a new narrative for COVID control
Open with caution: On Unlock 1
It’s time for a universal basic income programme in India
The waning of subaltern solidarity for Hindutva
Export blocks: On India’s trade amid the pandemic
A moment to trust the teacher
The echo of migrant footfalls and the silence on policy
Enjoying the fruits of their labour
Helping supply chains recover
The heavy burden of social suffering
An effective lockdown
The lockdown has highlighted stark inequalities
Will sport be the same in empty stadia?
Cinema after COVID-19
The eternal longing for the distant home
Working safely: On workplaces during the pandemic
A hole in the whole: On health sector woes
China, better prepared for the post-COVID world
How public health boosts an economy
Keep it retrospective
Backing the ‘angels in white coats’
Standstill: On opening of stadia for training
Flawed stimulus is justice denied
We need social physicians
A callous response
Peaking: On India’s coronavirus tally
Farm gate in focus: On amending Essential Commodities Act
A question of quarantine: On migrant workers and other travellers
TASMAC tribulations: On Tamil Nadu liquor sale
The pandemic and the challenge of behaviour change
One for the poor: On Centre’s corona package
Lockdown syndrome: On virus-induced economic crisis
Are India’s labour laws too restrictive?
Stop the return to laissez-faire
States cannot be left to the Centre’s mercy
Local motif: On Modi’s call for self-reliance
Liquidity lifeline: On Nirmala’s MSME package
A plan to revive a broken economy
Provide income support, restore jobs
Perilous state: On State finances
COVID-19 and the path ahead
Reaffirm cooperative federalism
Riding roughshod over State governments
Tragedy on the tracks: On the killing of 16 migrant workers
Coming to terms: On India refusing to admit community transmission
The trends shaping the post-COVID-19 world
The epidemic and ensuring safety in courts
Responding to COVID-19 at the grassroots
The face of exploitation
Contempt for labour: On dilution of labour laws
Slower growth and a tighter fiscal
Back home: On return of Indian expatriates
Blame game: On Donald Trump’s anti-China rhetoric over COVID-19
Resuscitating multilateralism with India’s help
A war-like state and a bond to the rescue
Fear and loathing in the land of the free
Everyone wants a good stimulus
Rent control amidst pandemic
Slow release: On lockdown 3.0
No comfort in numbers: On Bengal’s coronavirus cases
Pandemics without borders, South Asia’s evolution
India’s disease surveillance system needs a reboot
No relief for the nowhere people
BRICS against COVID-19
Recovering early: On India’s COVID-19 patients
It’s about food, nutrition and livelihood security
Taiwan’s coronavirus protocol shows how it is done
Needed: a pandemic patent pool
Getty Images/iStockphoto
Plasma therapy is no silver bullet
Take care of yourself too, fellow journalists
Strategic shift: On home isolation of mild coronavirus cases
Coping with today, planning for tomorrow
No end in sight: On India’s coronavirus strategy
Vividly imagining the life of migrant workers
A task for South Asia
Privacy concerns during a pandemic
Unlocking justice in the lockdown
Safe return: On migrant worker distress
The outline of another pandemic combat strategy
Pandemic and panic: On Tamil Nadu’s five-city lockdown
Protecting the poor from becoming poorer
Did SARS-CoV-2 begin from a lab?
Protection for protectors: On safety of healthcare workers
Rapid failures: On antibody testing kits
The COVID-19 paradox in South Asia
Fishing in troubled waters during a pandemic
How will India emerge out of the lockdown?
Making doctors wash hands
Locked out of cities, homes and livelihoods
Script of unity: On coronavirus and social prejudices
Exploiting a pandemic: On Trump’s immigration policy
The village is still relevant
A time for planetary solidarity
There may be no going back
No transparency in West Bengal
Focus on the curve: On India’s COVID-19 numbers
Economy in lockdown: On India’s worst case scenario
A shot of hope with a game changing vaccine
Caught in the heightened arc of communal polemics
Singing the corona tune
Helping a lending hand: On RBI’s second lockdown stimulus
A season of change: On IMD forecast system
A virus, social democracy, and dividends for Kerala
Across the gulf: On stranded Indian workers
Virtual reality: On telemedicine
A blueprint to revive the economy
A case to use JEE-Main instead of JEE-Advanced this year
Will the aviation industry recover from the pandemic?
Data-driven reporting during COVID-19
Stress test: On revised lockdown guidelines
Disastrous decision: On Trump halting funds to WHO
Cease the distractions, seize the moment
Getting the containment strategy in India right
In India’s response, a communications failure
Harmonising with nature
End the harassment of farmers now
A narrowing window: On extension of lockdown
Corona bond: On Eurozone COVID-19 rescue package
Halting the march of rumours
Polls during a pandemic
The pandemic and the contours of a health response
Economic liberalisation and its faults
Invasive, alien, most fearsome
Trade in tatters: On the global slump
Wanted, a collective national endeavour
Disingenuous and no antidote
COVID-19 and the crumbling world order
Women’s safety during lockdown
Lives and livelihoods: On economy after lockdown
Stage fright: On denying community transmission
Team India and winning the pandemic battle
In time of need: On hydroxychloroquine export
Will COVID-19 affect the course of globalisation?
Finding a scapegoat in WHO
Curating news for children during pandemic
A time for extraordinary action
For better use: On MPLADS funds
Needed, greater decentralisation of power
A key arsenal in rural India’s pandemic fight
Preparing for exit: On lifting the lockdown
Sanctions and pandemic: On America’s Iran policy
‘A script of action, responsibility and compassion’: Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot writes on Rajasthan’s fight against COVID-19
Taking a long view of the pandemic fight
Ten questions posed by the virus
A different economic approach
Why healthcare workers above 60 should be ‘benched’
Enemy at the gates: On Kerala-Karnataka border row
Reducing farm distress during a pandemic
Why everyone should wear masks
The criticality of community engagement
A niggardliness that is economically unwarranted
The spectre of a post-COVID-19 world
Light and sound: On Narendra Modi’s 9-minute light ceremony
A million and counting: On global coronavirus spread
Safe forests, safe people: On diseases of animal origin
Quarantine and the law
Making the private sector care for public health
Looking east to contain COVID-19
Limits to rugged individualism
Uncritical endorsement: On exodus of migrant workers and the Supreme Court
Beyond the blame game: On the Tablighi Jamaat episode
A long road: On India’s 21-day coronavirus lockdown
The missing notes: On politics and the fight against COVID-19
China’s zero: On China’s lead in containing coronavirus
Unprecedented step: On Wuhan lockdown
The return of the expert
Lessons from Hubei
A pandemic in an unequal India
Faith can’t override public health
Devising a people-centric response to COVID-19
Karnataka CM writes on how the State is fighting the pandemic
Tamil Nadu CM writes on how the State is stopping the pandemic in its tracks
The hunt for a cure begins with telling the truth
COVID-19 and a city’s anatomy
Long live the nation-state
The COVID cycle
Coronavirus | The worst of times, the best of times
It’s also a fight against punitive measures
The age of the neoliberal virus
The deep void in global leadership
Thinking national, acting local
Every man is a part of the main
Beyond social distancing to fight COVID-19
Next Story