Just as we thought things were getting better, India is reeling from a huge surge in covid cases. This time, every peak that was reached in the first wave in 2020, has been crossed both nationally and in many states, which are reporting all time high daily cases.
We initially took comfort in the fact that the fatalities were on the lower side, but those statistics are also changing. Nothing therefore is more critical at this time than the vaccination drive and that is why, the petty political finger pointing we have seen this week, is both shameful and frankly plays with the lives of millions of Indians.
It began with the Maharashtra government warning that they were running out of vaccines in many places. Responding angrily, the central health minister Harsh Vardhan slammed the Uddhav Thackeray led government, declaring there was no shortage and that this was “nothing but an attempt to divert attention from the Maharashtra government’s repeated failures to control the spread of pandemic.”
But within a day, reports of vaccine shortages popped up from at least ten other states, including Odisha, UP, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand. These states said they had supplies of just 3 to 4 days left.
The media reported on how many people were turned away from hospitals in Ghaziabad and NOIDA in UP because they had no vaccines to give. As I write this column, Mumbai’s biggest vaccination centre has shut down as it waits for more supplies.
For the centre to claim all is well, is therefore, completely misleading and unacceptable especially in a democracy, where transparency must be maintained at all cost. Instead we are witnessing ugly politics and a bureaucracy that says vaccines are for those who “need” it, not those who “want” it, like its a piece of candy.
Indian officials maintained that no other country has opened up vaccines for those above the age of 45. That is simply untrue. Parts of the US, like New York, are now vaccinating people above the age of 16. President Joe Biden has announced that all American adults will be eligible for vaccines from April 19.
As citizens, we have a right to demand some answers. So here are my questions for the health minister:
1) The question is no longer whether there is a vaccine shortage - there clearly is - so please tell us, what is the shortfall and how will this be made up? How is the government helping to ramp up vaccine production?
2) Why are we adamant on age based criteria alone? Shouldn’t policies evolve as the crisis deepens? For example, why can’t more people be vaccinated in the states where the most cases are being reported, like the top 5?
3) Why have other vaccines like Sputnik, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, not been given emergency authorisation yet? What are we waiting for?
4) Why shouldn’t those who can afford it, pay more for their vaccines? By all means, let vaccinations at government hospitals be free, but those who opt for private hospitals should and can pay more. Let them.
5) Since we are now staring at a demand-supply crisis, was it was wise to export vaccines to other country’s before India’s own citizens got them?
6) While it is true that many people have been lax about wearing masks and social distancing, why are political rallies still going ahead and being proudly shared on social media by top leaders? What sort of example are political leaders setting for the rest of the country when they don’t give a toss about masks and social distancing themselves?
7) Shouldn’t big religious events like the Kumbh have been cancelled?
India deserves answers. Our health is at stake. And until our own leaders and policymakers don’t take covid protocols seriously, and don’t address vaccine issues honestly, we are riding a very dangerous covid wave.