The mass inoculation drive, powered by two vaccines, proves that in an emergency, we can rise to the occasion

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Monday, January 18, 2021, 12:36 AM IST
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A medical worker inoculates Vidya Thakur (R), medical dean of the Rajawadi Hospital, Ghatkopar, in Mumbai, on January 16. | Photo by Indranil MUKHERJEE / AFP

The successful launch of the Covid-19 vaccination nationwide undoubtedly is a matter of pride for Indians. We are fortunate to have begun the massive vaccination programme with two different vaccines, one purely our own and the other manufactured here for global use. Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Serum Institute India’s Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield make us realise that in a national emergency such as this once-in-a-century pandemic, we can rise to the occasion, mustering our best and brightest to repulse the challenge.

No less remarkable was the homework that went into the creation of a nation-wide organisational structure with 3,000 centres for inoculation, which simultaneously launched the drive last Saturday. Each centre was to inoculate 100 healthcare workers, with sanitation workers, doctors and nurses receiving top priority. If all goes according to plan, 30 crore people would have got the vaccination by July-end.

It should be recalled that the Opposition, till very recently was openly questioning the handling of the pandemic by the Modi government. Rahul Gandhi, in particular, was typically churlish, shooting off mocking tweets every other day about the unchecked growth in the number of infections. Mercifully, the pandemic has not been as harsh on Indians as it has been in several other far more advanced countries. In a country of over 1.3 billion people, the death toll of a little over 1.5 lakh fatalities compares favourably with the USA’s over three lakh deaths in a population of over 30 crores.

In fact, it was feared that the Covid-19 vaccine may not be available, at least in India, till the end of 2021. Admittedly, the pharma companies, realising the sheer emergency of fighting a global virus, compressed the normal process for research, trial and manufacturing of vaccines. Whether it was the western pharma firms or those behind the iron curtain in China and Russia, all responded to the urgency of finding the virus with remarkable speed. That would explain the initial distrust of all vaccines, but more so of the Russian and Chinese vaccines.

Nearer home, public opposition to the Bharat Biotech vaccine was unfortunate. The vaccine has since passed all the prescribed tests and has been approved for backing up the SII’s Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccines. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s message about the need to take post-vaccine precautions ought to be heeded. Being vaccinated does not fully insulate one from passing the virus to others. Nor is a single jab a guarantee of the vaccine-taker becoming 100 per cent Covid-proof.

According to the scientific community, those who receive the jab need to be observed for their immediate reaction to it. It is recommended that after administering the vaccines, doctors observe the recipient for at least an hour at the health facility itself. Also, once the over-50 population is vaccinated, utmost care would have to be taken of the co-morbidities of each of those inoculated.

In this context, the death of 23 elderly persons in Norway after they received the first shot of Pfizer-BioNtech mRNA vaccine ought not to cause a scare. Most of them were terminally ill, but their death after the vaccine should caution against vaccinating the elderly without studying the medical history of each vaccine-receiver.

Meanwhile, the Opposition should desist from spreading fear against the vaccines. Admittedly, there is a sizable section of the population which has little faith in any kind of vaccine --- a recent survey revealed more than half the population was reluctant to take the vaccine. Congress leaders like Manish Tewari undermine faith in scientific research when they mock the vaccination programme, wondering why 'people in authority' had not taken the jab. And had senior ruling party leaders done so, Tewari and others of his ilk would have criticised them for jumping the queue. With some people, tails or heads, you cannot win. That is fine. People have duly marginalised such petty critics.

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