Twin vaccine hope and surge in Delhi

Long before the most keenly awaited vaccine is finally ready to save humanity from the deadly coronavirus, tens of thousands of more fatalities would have been recorded. For, the period between the testing process and its certification for mass use can extend to several months, if not years. In the case of the pandemic, the sheer emergency to neutralise its fatal threat may force the health authorities to compress the time between the third and final phase of testing to a couple of months.

Yet, despite short-circuiting procedures and processes, we in India may have to wait at least till mid-2021 for the vaccine to be available. Happily for Indians, the Pune-based largest producer of vaccines in the world, the Serum Institute of India, has a manufacturing tie-up with Moderna Inc, the US biotech company which has reported a 94.5 per cent efficacy in preventing Covid-19. The second pharmaceutical company after the US multinational pharma firm Pfizer Inc. reported over 90 per cent success in effectiveness.

Both pharma firms have been already contracted to supply on a priority basis to the US, which has paid billions in advance anticipating success in research and commercial release of the vaccines. The Moderna vaccine has a huge advantage over Pfizer’s insofar as it need not necessarily be kept in extremely cold refrigeration. Besides, it has a longer six-month shelf life, at minus 4 degrees cold refrigeration. Given how even in our metro towns a majority of pharmacies/chemists don’t refrigerate life-saving drugs/vials, it is going to be a huge challenge to store the Coronavirus vaccine in proper conditions for it to be effective in fighting the disease.

India can expect to get a substantial portion of the vaccines which are to be manufactured in Pune thanks to the production agreement signed by SII with Moderna and, in case of a successful development, by Astra Zeneca-Oxford vaccine. Needless to say, the developing world will receive lower priority in the allocation of vaccines by the western pharma firms.

Given the ever-rising number of infections and daily fatalities in the US, it is incumbent on the US health authorities to begin inocluation as early as possible. Nearly 2.5 lakh Americans have already died from the virus and the latest surge has forced the US President-elect Joe Biden to make it the first and foremost priority of his administration. A coronavirus task force set up by Biden has an Indian origin American at its head.

Nearer home, far from beating a retreat, the virus is surging afresh in parts of the country, but nowhere as fast and furiously as in the national capital. The Delhi Government of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has proved itself to be thoroughly incompetent in handling the health emergency. Despite the Central government providing generous assistance in trained healthcare personnel from the Central pool and making available facilities located in the capital, the AAP government has failed to contain the pandemic.

Delhi has seen a 25 per cent surge in infections this month alone, pressuring the health system in the capital. The availability of ICU beds is now at a frightening low, though Kejriwal had boasted at the onset of the pandemic that his government was ready with 30,000 extra beds. If only the self-congratulatory advertisements issued by the Kejriwal Government could kill the virus, it would have vanished not only from Delhi but from Bangalore and other cities where the AAP CM releases ads in a bid to acquire a nation-wide profile at taxpayers’ expense. Delhi university and schoolteachers haven’t been paid salaries for months but there is no shortage of funds for a huge 24x7, year-long advertisement spree.

Surprisingly, having been in a great hurry to open up public transport and markets, the Delhi Health Minister is now threatening to enforce a third lockdown. He blames the virus surge on pollution and the recent festival season. But other cities also celebrated the same festival and suffer from some degree of pollution as well. There is no escaping the conclusion of rank inefficiency and cluelessness in managing the pandemic in the capital city of India. Delhi has now notched up five lakh cases, twice and three times more than some of the states several times bigger in population. Yet, the Delhi newspapers remain mute, compromised by the greed of ad revenue from the Kejriwal government.

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