by Rajesh Kumar Sinha 22 January 2021
After a long and highly anticipated wait, the vaccine to fight against the troublesome Corona is out. After extensive trials and cumbersome regulatory approvals, it is out. It is being used since late December last year for various segments of the population in a few countries as yet, including the UK (the first country to start vaccinating its citizens), the US, Canada, Germany, France, Israel, Russia, Argentina, Chile, Belarus, Belgium, and a few others.
The interesting point is that the vaccine has been developed and secured approvals only by a handful of companies like Pfizer-BioNTech (US), Moderna (US), Astra Zeneca and Serum Institute of India (UK/India), Bharat Biotech (India), Sputnik V(Russia) and Sinopharm (China). Besides, a few other companies are also working on different Corona vaccines in varying development stages and are likely to secure regulatory approvals very soon. In fact, in India itself, five more companies are working on Covid vaccines in different stages. They are likely to supplement the huge demand for vaccination in the country and around the world.
The Covid vaccination process got underway in India on 16th January. Healthcare professionals, workers, and selective security forces in border areas have been designed to be the first ones to get the vaccine. It has been touted as the largest vaccination process initiated anywhere in the world. Depending upon the program’s likely success, the vaccination process is expected to move among other vulnerable sections of the Indian population, including the senior citizens, the older people soon.
Given the backdrop of the challenging situation amidst the global outbreak of Corona, one would have expected the entire country, including politicians, media, intelligentsia, to support this massive endeavour. This should have been seen as a national initiative, not a partisan political one. However, much to the chagrin of the common Indian citizen, there has been huge politicking again on Corona vaccination in the country.
As many years ago, somebody called India an argumentative democracy, the politicisation of the vaccination process in India clearly spells out its reality even today. Till the vaccination was not rolled out in the country, there had been demands of politicians from the government as to when the vaccine would be available to Indians. Now that the immunization process has started in the country, some of the leading sparks of the Indian National Congress (INC) party are questioning if the government is sure of the vaccine’s efficacy. Some very foolish questions have been raised by political leaders of the INC, Samajwadi Party (SP), Shiv Sena (SS), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and a few other regional bigwigs why PM Modi is not taking the vaccine first.
Instead of coming up with sensible, rational arguments, some of the opposition politicians are trying to use this unfortunate situation to make personalized attacks against PM Modi. They are trying to disseminate a misconception among people not to take the vaccine and, in the process, make this vaccination process a failure.
And to make things worse, some of the opposition politicians have stooped so low that they are spreading baseless rumours about the composition of vaccines and trying to provoke religious sentiments amongst people of certain sections. Few politicians have termed the process as a governmental intervention to infertile the male population and control the population growth by indirect means.
West Bengal is one of the states that will go to state polls in April this year. Mamata Banerjee-led ruling party Trinamool Congress (TC) has suddenly gone into everything comes free mode by luring voters with a promise to offer free vaccination to all in the state. With a very critical state of finances, how the state government will do it is something that it knows it does not have to worry about.
Then doubts are being raised by politicians and a section of the media about how good the vaccination will be. Though Covishield and Covaxin, the two vaccines currently used in India, have already been given to more than 7.86 lakh healthcare people within the first three days, except for one death in Hyderabad (that has occurred for a non-vaccination reason), none has reported any serious complications. Further, both vaccines are being given under proper guidelines, and the former has reported an efficacy rate of 91%, much better than any comparable existing Covid vaccination available currently.
No wonder, in some parts of the country, a minuscule section of people have started making noises against taking the vaccine, even being provided free or at a highly subsidised price. And that is one of the most unfortunate instances of Indian politics at its worst state being played now.
On the international front, India has started sending the vaccine to some neighbouring countries, both as a grant and later on probably on commercial terms around the world. Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka all have received the first consignment of Indian Covid vaccines. Even in the international domain in the region, vaccine politics is at play. China, which made the initial claims of nearing a breakthrough with Covid vaccination, is yet to provide details on its vaccination process and its efficacy. Pakistan, which has brought relations with India to the lowest ebb in the last many decades, is not even seeking Indian vaccine even though its citizens are facing the grim Corona situation in the country.
Privately even Pakistani officials have admitted that acquiring the Indian vaccine with a very credible efficacy rate of more than 90% is much better than acquiring the Sinopharm (efficacy rate of around 50%) from iron brother China; they are unwilling to get in touch politically or diplomatically to acquire either of the Indian vaccines, Covishield or Covaxin from India. And that is the most unfortunate part of this evolving tale of Covid politics being played in India and abroad.