100 million vaccinated - India has done a good job with the jab, writes Harini Calamur

A 100 million vaccinations done, of which more than ten million were second doses. India’s doctors, nurses, public health administrators and others have done a stellar job in kickstarting the vaccination programme and maintaining a steady momentum. A hundred million vaccinations is a good start to a nationwide inoculation programme, which will keep people safe and enable us to get back to ‘normal’.

What has been achieved in this timeframe is no mean feat. To give you a comparison point, the only two other countries to have crossed this mark are the US and China, which have vaccinated almost 170 million and 160 million people respectively. America began its vaccination process around the middle of December 2020, and China started it as early as July 2020.

Spike in cases

However, the quiet satisfaction that the health system and administrators could have felt at the pace of vaccinations has been overshadowed by the spike in cases across the country. It seems worse than last time. We see riskier public behaviour, we see Covid fatigue, and now, apathy about the bug.

The lockdown helped India flatten the curve of transmission at great cost to livelihoods and the economy. As out of state workers began leaving the large cities to go back to the relative safety and security of home, there were great fears of the virus moving to the heartlands of India. Thankfully, that didn’t come to pass. India seemed to have won the war against Covid. But we were wrong.

Western media analysed the India story, and marvelled at why we had so few deaths, and why despite the number of cases, our fatalities weren’t high. Our media took up thread and went to town with theories. Actors, and cricketeers, celebs famous for being famous, and other personalities whose presence would drive viewership – all pontificated about how we were ‘special’. We began believing that we had some magical immunity that protected us. And, we let our guard down.

Utter disregard

There were pictures of overcrowded weddings, crowds at cricket stadia; religious gatherings; Holi celebrations; the Maha Kumbh; protests, political rallies, traffic jams and movie crowds; people in bars and restaurants – and there was one theme in common whether the event was secular, political, religious, social or something else – the lack of masks, the lack of social distancing, and the complete lack of regard for life and well-being. A whole range of activities that could have been avoided, were undertaken, without any thought for either self, or family, or society. And, the virus struck back. With vengeance.

Right now, there is palpable fear. Building societies and RWAs have come up with draconian measures to keep out the virus, various state governments are contemplating lockdowns, and the media is adding oil to the fire by picking out anything remotely controversial, hoping that there will be a few extra clicks coming to them because of this.

For example, the entire case of AstraZeneca vaccine and its link to blood clots. What most news platforms in India spoke about was the EU decision on the AZ vaccine (known in India as Covishield). What none of them told you in the headline was: Of the 25 million people vaccinated in the UK and the EU, there have been 80 cases of clots – and there is no causal link between the vaccine and the clot (yet).

Poll campaigns

Amidst all this chaos, confusion, and fear, the entire government seems missing – busy campaigning for elections in the middle of a pandemic. Their political stance is combative. Their response to any situation is that ‘it is someone else’s fault’, and given that this is campaign season, and being noticed by the media is most vital, there are irresponsible statements about battling corona, masking and even social distancing. When ministers who extol the virtues of masking up and physical distancing themselves turn up at rallies where the unmasked rule – it is a bit difficult to get others to follow your directives.

For starters, the government needs to start putting out consistent information. Putting up data on its sites, and getting its IT cell and media partners to share it is just one part of the activity. The entire cabinet needs to be reading out of the same playbook for battling Covid. You cannot have a situation where one minister says X, and another says Y about combatting Covid, and it is happening.

Secondly, the government needs to get a cross-party steering committee that will own the Covid project. Right now, there is just too much politics messing up public health and the delivery of vaccinations. And, finally, it is time we allowed other variants of vaccines to be produced and rolled out en masse. Russia’s Sputnik is waiting in the wings. Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have had a successful rollout elsewhere – and the data is there for all to see. We need to look at whether we need to specific test data form India, or whether we can make do now with the data that exists elsewhere.

We are at war with an unseen enemy – Covid. And the decision-making processes and chains of command need to be on a war footing, rather than business as usual. The processes and protocols that work during peacetime are not apt for war. During war, the single-most important thing for civilians to do is not to panic. And the best way to reduce panic is to cut down on watching the news on television. Start now and you may already start feeling a lot better about the world.

The writer works at the intersection of digital content, technology and audiences. She is a writer, columnist, visiting faculty and filmmaker.

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