Today I write after a month of extreme stress in my home country. We saw heart-rending pleas for oxygen, plasma, medicine, etc on social media. Our governments were caught napping and basking in false bravado. This one month has destroyed the image of an emerging superpower, which was carefully being nurtured by the current govt. But despite all the missteps, there has been one glaring policy that has been appalling. End of April the Modi Govt decided to decentralize the decision-making process for the covid fight. At the peak of the second wave, the states were suddenly left to fend for themselves with vaccine acquisition being a state responsibility. At the same time, the govt announced everybody would be eligible for vaccinations without taking into account the vaccine stocks available or the vaccine manufacturing capacity as no advance orders were placed.
First, I would talk about our homegrown vaccine, Covaxin. They used old and tried and tested methodology of using an attenuated strain of the infecting virus for designing a vaccine. On paper, it was one of the best approaches but the issue was a lack of data. Despite the robustness of the approach, hard data is required to trust the vaccine. Just for reference by January 2021, Pfizer, Astra Zeneca, and Moderna, all vaccines for covid19, released their phase 3 clinical trials data but it was only in March Covaxin published its phase 2 clinical trials data in a peer-reviewed journal while phase 3 data haven’t been released publicly but the company has claimed an 81% efficacy without any peer review.
Second, the approvals for the Pfizer vaccine were withheld because Pfizer wants protection from any claims arising due to the vaccine use while Moderna is yet to apply for certification in India. Why the govt. hasn’t been proactive in soliciting more vaccines including the single-shot Jannsen vaccine is a mystery. Other than that, one of the arguments I have heard is that none of the above-mentioned vaccines have been tested on Indians. Despite my limited knowledge of vaccines and clinical trials, I can just say that this is a pandemic and I am sure many people of Indian origin and Indians living abroad have been administered the vaccines without any major adverse events, and on top of that a vaccine which is safe for use in the majority of the western world wouldn’t essentially have severe side effects. Even an expedited process could have been designed for the Indian context given that Covaxin was approved for use in India despite having no efficacy data.
Third point is the definite opening up of vaccinations for all. The govt. could have managed the whole process better and on this, I can always sympathize with the govt. because given the scale of vaccinations there can be no foolproof manner to go about it. The only thing where the govt. slipped up was ordering enough vaccines. Last week of April announcement gave the state govt and the central govt one week to place all the orders and the vaccine companies to start manufacturing like a billion doses which in an ideal scenario would have taken a year or so. Vaccine manufacturing can’t simply be scaled up so fast.
This pandemic has exposed the lack of knowledge in our politicians and they are busy managing their image instead of solving problems. The Delhi CM, an engineer from one of the elite institutes of India decides to kick up an international diplomatic storm by classifying a Singapore variant of the virus which is the Indian variant in Singapore. Oops sorry, there are no Indian variants because that is insulting the country.