Home :: Sunday Sentiments

Sunday Sentiments

  • Four questions on the vaccine strategy

    Posted On April 25, 2021

    By Karan Thapar

    The one thing journalists are good at is asking questions. We’re naturally curious, even inquisitive. We rarely accept at face value what is said to us. If it’s from someone in authority, we usually distrust it. Our inclination is to dig below the surface because we suspect the truth is hidden from view. This can make us pesky and awkward. At times even bolshy and obstreperous.

    Well, I think it’s time to ask a few questions about the government’s vaccination strategy. But I’ll do it fairly. I’ll simply pose the questions that need to be answered. Whilst we wait for the government’s response—if there is one – you judge if the questions raise deep and disturbing concerns. In other words, I’ll leave you to come to whatever conclusion you want.

    The first question is the most important. It has two parts. Given that as far back as may or june last year, when Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca were working on a two dose vaccine, we knew that if 75 percent of the Indian population is to be fully vaccinated we would need 2 billion doses and given that we also knew our total nationwide vaccine producing capacity could not deliver 2 billion doses in the required time frame, wasn’t it obvious the government needed to take immediate steps to ramp up our production capacity? This isn’t based on rocket science. Just simple mathematics.

    So what did the government do? Sums of 10 crore were made available to the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech to help with vaccine trials but as far as I can tell nothing was done to boost production capacity. If I’m right, was this explicable and understandable? Or utterly irresponsible? The consequence is today, when the government wants to vaccinate at 5 million doses a day but public health experts are recommending 10, we produce under 2.5 million.

    Let me come to a second key question. As far back as May or June Serum decided to risk its own money and produce and stockpile Astrazeneca (Covishield) in the hope it would be successful. The US, UK and the European Union placed firm orders and also paid for them. All of this was before the vaccine was approved and licenced. The intention was to guarantee an assured supply. Did the Indian government take a similar step? If not, why not? Did it not believe this was wise and necessary? Or did it not think of it?

    The argument that India doesn’t have the money simply doesn’t wash. 35,000 crore was set aside in the budget for vaccination. Why wasn’t it used? Furthermore, Serum is an Indian company. Placing confirmed advance orders and paying for them would have helped boost its capacity. This was, therefore, atmanirbhar to boot!

    Time for a third question. At the end of 2020 the government reached an agreement with Serum to buy 100 million doses at Rs 200 each. That’s one of the lowest prices in the world. But in January, when it placed a firm order, it was for only 11 million doses. Why? I’m told thereafter the government acquired additional amounts in similar lots of 10 or 20 million. Again, why? Our purchase strategy should have been designed to help our vaccine producers. Doesn’t this feel like tactical game-playing?

    Finally, my last question. Nearly three weeks ago Serum asked for 3000 crore to boost its manufacturing capacity. By now the government knew India is short of vaccines whilst the second surge is escalating exponentially yet it took two weeks to respond. Why? In a crisis speed is critical but the government thought time was on its side. It’s explanation: we had to find a way of paying. It did so at the speed of business-as-usual.

    I’ll stop at this point. It’s now for you to decide if these questions raise disturbing issues and are worth asking. We may differ in our answers but the ones that matter will come from the government. But when?

Share this Video:

There are no comments on this sunday sentiments yet.

Characters remaining (3000)

Will be displayedWill not be displayed

Will be displayed

Please answer this simple math question.

6 + 1