Free and universal vaccination required

It is now certain that the Covid-19 vaccine will soon be available. A number of pharma companies are giving finishing touches to the regulatory procedures before the vaccines can be mass-produced for vulnerable populations across the world. India is fortunate to have already tied up with a couple of well-regarded pharmaceutical multinationals and is expecting to receive a fairly big share of the production.

Given the post-Diwali surge in infections in several parts of the country, the sooner the vaccine is made available for use, the better it will be to prevent renewed lockdowns and other stringent measures. As it is, various state governments are shooting in the dark, trying to cope with the rising incidence of infections in their respective jurisdictions. Despite the effort to shift blame and understate the number of infections, the situation in some regions has worsened in recent weeks.

The national capital, for instance, is in the throes of a huge surge and the Kejriwal Government is at its wits’ end. As a former Union health secretary said in a column in a contemporary the other day, despite having the best health infrastructure in the country, despite getting generous assistance from the Centre in medical personnel and facilities, the local authorities have made a hash of things, more concerned about managing the public perception than actually containing the spread of virus through adherence to necessary protocols.

Blaming the migrant workers and lamenting the daily floating population from nearby towns in UP and Haryana for the travails of the national capital is pointless when the local markets and bazaars fail to enforce basic precautions, such as wearing of masks and social distancing, etc. The decision by the Maharashtra government on Monday to compulsorily test people coming from Delhi by air, road and rail, besides those from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Goa spotlights the uncontrollable surge of Covid -19 cases in the nation’s capital.

It is another matter that Maharashtra has not acquitted itself well in handling the pandemic, with Mumbai recording record-high infections in the early phase of the health crisis. Maybe that is why the riposte of the Goa Health Minister Vishwajit Rane to the Maharashtra order, terming it a big joke was well-deserved. “ Half of Delhi and Mumbai are in Goa… In fact, we should be strictly checking people coming from there …,” Rane added sarcastically. It is clear that haphazardness informs the handling of the pandemic by various state governments. Hopefully, there will be a systematic allocation of the vaccine when it is made available in bulk. Here it is for the Central government to step in, to ensure that it procures it in bulk for allocation to different states, on an equitable need-based criterion, depending on the intensity of the virus in each region.

We cannot have confusion and chaos in the nation-wide drive to vaccinate the people on a pre-determined and medically-sanctioned formula. Health workers, the aged and the infirm and other vulnerable people likely to contract infection must get priority. But the stated intention of the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, to source the vaccines independently of the Central government, is meant to sow confusion in the orderly implementation of the vaccination drive. Banerjee should put aside her ingrained suspicion of the Modi government and instead, cooperate in undertaking a successful immunisation drive against Covid-19.

We trust the costs of the vaccination programme will be apportioned between the Centre and the states, without the people being asked to share the costs. Reports that the rich might jump the queue are, however, disturbing. Until the pandemic is well behind us, the availability of the Covid-19 vaccine must be strictly regulated by the health authorities. In a health emergency of this intensity and fierceness, let not the rich jump the queue at the cost of the truly needy and sick. It will take the cooperation of the people for the health authorities to overcome the challenge of the once-in-a-century pandemic. All hands need to be on deck and the virus will be gone soon.

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Free Press Journal