Prevention is better than cure is an adage apt for the times since delaying vaccinations is procrastination without justification. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah busy with electioneering in poll-bound states, babus and technocrats are unwilling to take a stand on a unified jab policy. Nor, are they ready with research or studies to present credible solutions to the PM.
Worse, the multiplicity of authorities and the domination of a few individuals have polluted pandemic handling. Don’t wait for tomorrow, what you can do today is a lesson our Corona Captains in babudom should pay heed to. Pandemic paranoia has struck the world, with Omicron nearly paralysing economies. Yet, global scientists, medical professionals and administrators seem lost in the wellness wilderness.
None of them offer instant solutions or remedies, only sermons. Pharma cabals have unleashed their menial megaphones with the sole objective to push a variety of medical therapies and drugs for profit. Covid is the karma of Kaliyug since its cyclical nature ensures that even before the first mutation is contained, a new variety arrives.
Yet, administrators and their advisors show no unanimity on conquering the monster, which has claimed 5.5 million lives worldwide. Omicron has infected 80 nations and is spreading 70 times faster than its predecessors. In the absence of a consensus on corrective mechanisms to deal with this spread, each country is adopting its own strategy. Some are closing their borders. Others are making vaccination compulsory.
Some others simply leave it to God. One of the medical experts warns the public about Omicron which is still not out after crossing a century in the country. Another believes India doesn’t need an extra dose of vaccination. Rarely, the confusion and chaos has been so pronounced earlier. Many questions are being raised about our Covid strategy.
- Is there a cohesive vaccination policy or roadmap to deal with the pandemic in both the short and long run?
- Why has India delayed booster shots?
- Why is the government unclear about vaccination for 5-18 year olds?
- Why is the government not reducing the time gap between first and second shot despite surplus stocks?
- What is holding it back from importing vaccines for boosters while the surplus is being exported or expiring in private labs?
- Are we ready with robust healthcare infrastructure to deal with a massive third wave?
In the current top down architecture of governance, there is no clarity on these issues. India is, perhaps, the only country where too many cooks are experimenting with diverse recipes for prognosis and prescriptions. Besides the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), there is a Subject Expert Committee (SEC) under the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) to review applications from vaccine manufacturers. Recently, SII was asked to submit additional clinical trial data after it claimed that Covidshield is suitable for booster shots. At the same time, the top genome sequencing institution, Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), took a U-turn within a week over boosters.
After recommending additional jabs for people above 40, it claimed that its reference was merely a “discussion about the potential role of additional dose of Covid vaccines in high-risk populations” and wasn’t meant to be a part of India’s immunisation programme. Strangely, INSACOG passed the buck to other agencies. “Many more scientific experiments are needed to assess the impacts of booster dose, which are being guided and monitored by National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) and National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC),” its press statement read.
Basically, it meant that only NTAGI and NEGVAC can advise the government on vaccination strategy. Various agencies made a hasty retreat when the Union Health Minister told Parliament that a decision on booster doses and vaccines for kids would be taken on the basis of scientific advice. He clarified that the government would focus on expanding the coverage of the second dose. His emphasis was clearly on the second dose and not booster shots. The government or its high-profile and telegenic spokespersons haven’t commented on the time frame for reducing the gap between two doses or additional doses for the fully vaccinated people. They remain as vague as their political bosses.
Paediatrician and Niti Aayog member VK Paul, the most vocal sarkari voice on Covid, said a decision on the ‘third dose’ (booster shot), if necessary, will be taken only after scientific info and more studies on the subject are available. “We are going through the data and research work is in progress…One should understand, for many countries, booster doses are provided when the country vaccinates citizens with both doses to their fullest. First, let us focus on finishing the task of vaccinating people with both doses. I believe that booster doses should be administered when the studies based on science say so,’’ he asserted.
Dr Samiran Panda, Head, Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases, ICMR feels that alarmist intervention doesn’t help because “we still don’t know how the virus is going to shape up. We don’t know its effect on the elderly.’’
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Even after two years of pandemic mayhem, the establishment is content with its success in jabbing the maximum number of Indians and achieving the lowest mortality and positivity rate. Over 50 per cent of the population has received double doses while about 75 per cent has got the single shot. India is, definitely, leading others when it comes to taming pandemic. But complacency and overconfidence causes agony as was evident after the first wave.
India was the first country to contain it and celebrated this milestone with pomp and show. It pulled its guard down and was devastated by the most horrific viral tornado. Since then, the priority has been creating a strong healthcare system to deal with a third wave. Since India can’t be insulated from the world, it must be fully armed to deal with new invasions. Global research studies have proved that an extra jab after a gap of six months raises immunity. Inoculating children prevents hospitalisation and death.
India is the global vaccine-manufacturing hub. Currently, over 20 crore vials are in stock. But inexplicably inoculation has slowed down. Unfortunately, the decreasing number of privately run vaccination centres stands at just 2,000 now. Vaccine manufacturers are unsure of future orders. On the other hand, many advanced countries are aggressively pushing for vaccination of kids and booster shots. US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have gone on TV to encourage citizens to abandon vaccine hesitancy.
The Indian establishment is personality driven. It will let its leader down, if it refuses to act on time. Modi defines and decides the course of action and direction. He has to sacrifice some time allotted for seeking votes and set the tone. The time has come for him to speak now and not regret later. He has won many electoral battles and could win more in the future. But he can’t afford to lose the war against Covid. It is his worst nemesis right now. Avoiding an appropriate action now to repent later isn’t, surely, the government strategy.