The good news is here. The life-threatening fear of coronavirus had actually vanished when it was announced that at long last medical science is ready with a vaccine to vanquish the devil. A couple of weeks later, India is ready to roll out the nation-wide inoculation programme. Last week, the Drug Controller General of India gave approval for the Pune-based Serum Institute of India’s Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The SII is now set to provide ten million doses of the much-in-demand vaccine in the current month alone. Given that the SII is the largest vaccine-maker globally, it should be possible for it to meet the domestic demand without much difficulty. One crore healthcare workers and those in the vulnerable groups, such as the old and the infirm, would naturally get priority.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who supervised a dry run of the massive roll-out plan, has said that the protocol for the administration of the vaccine had already been transmitted to the state health authorities. In the first phase, up to June, the government plans to inoculate 30 crore people. The second phase, beginning in July, targets another 27 crore beneficiaries.
Another good news is that the vaccine is absolutely free for health workers. To be priced at a modest Rs 200-300, it is likely that the state governments will fund the entire exercise, in order to ensure that the poor and the vulnerable sections come forward for vaccination. However, the challenge for the authorities is to spread awareness about the vaccine and to counter superstition and inherent resistance among the people about any sort of inoculation. In particular, the Muslim population needs to be disabused of the idea that vaccination is anti-religion. (Remember the vicious and violent disinformation campaign by the Islamist organisations against the administration of polio vaccines to children?)
Unfortunately, even seemingly grown-up adults unabashedly spout unscientific nonsense. Like the Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav. The former chief minister of UP was reported to have said last Saturday that he did not trust what he dubbed a 'BJP vaccine'. Given that he was sent to Australia for studies, Yadav insults his education by questioning the efficacy of the vaccine or by imputing BJP mischief to a vaccine which has undergone a rigorous process of field studies and only then received approval from independent drug regulatory authorities.
If he, a former chief minister, pooh-poohs the vaccine, it only goes to spotlight both the extent of partisanship in politics and a craven disregard for the well-being of the people. Political and civil society leaders ought to encourage scientific temper instead of paying fealty to superstition and old wives’ tales about great dangers flowing from the use of a globally-approved vaccine.