Vaccine diplomacy: How Modi govt is trying to project India as vaccine centre of the world

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr. Angela Merkel, through video-teleconference, in New Delhi on Wednesday. (ANI)

Govt ready with a huge vaccination plan as Opposition questions its efficacy 

Our Bureau
New Delhi  

In a massive move, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech jointly communicated their pledge on Tuesday for the smooth rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to India and the world. “Mr. Adar Poonawala and Dr. Krishna Ella, jointly on behalf of the two companies, today communicated their combined intent to develop, manufacture and supply the COVID-19 vaccines for India and globally,” read a joint statement from SII and Bharat Biotech. Adar Poonawala is Chief Executive Officer of SII. Dr. Krishna Ella is Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Biotech.

“They said, the more important task in front of them is saving the lives and livelihoods of populations in India and the world. Vaccines are a global public health good and they have the power to save lives and accelerate the return to economic normalcy at the earliest,” the statement said.

It further said, “Now that two COVID-19 vaccines have been issued EUA (emergency use authorization) in India, the focus is on manufacturing, supply and distribution, such that populations that need it the most receive high quality, safe and efficacious vaccines.”

“We are fully aware of the importance of vaccines for people and countries alike, we hereby communicate our joint pledge to provide global access for our COVID-19 vaccines,” the statement added.

India is ready to rollout vaccines – at home and abroad. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday held a video-teleconference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and discussed key issues of mutual importance including India’s commitment to deploy its capacities for the benefit of the world.

The Prime Minister briefed Chancellor Merkel on the developments in India with regard to vaccine development and assured her of “India’s commitment to deploy its capacities for the benefit of the world.” The two leaders discussed key issues of mutual importance including the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, bilateral ties, regional and global issues, particularly India-EU relations.

With the country set to roll out vaccine against coronavirus, the External Affairs Ministry on Friday said India has been at the forefront of global response in the common fight against the disease by providing medicines and other essential supplies and is ready to cooperate in providing vaccines to the neighbours.

“You would know that since the beginning, India has been at the forefront of the global response in this common fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. India sees international cooperation in this field, particularly with its neighbours, as its duty,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said at the regular media briefing. “We have held training sessions for experts from these countries on vaccine-related issues. As we roll out vaccines, Prime Minister’s announcement that India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity would be used for the benefit of all humanity in fighting this crisis needs to be noted,” he added.

Neighbouring countries have shown interest in the vaccines being produced by India. The country is conducting dry runs and is expected to roll out the world’s largest vaccination drive in coming days.

India’s drug regulator has given emergency use authorisation to two COVID-19 vaccines – ‘Covaxin’ developed indigenously by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR and ‘Covishield’ being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.

Meanwhile, ahead of the mega Covid-19 vaccination drive, the Central government has directed all states/ Union Territories to ensure that preparations are on the right track for the roll-out process, billed as the largest such drive in the world.

A health worker is seen inside a Covid-19 vaccination centre perform a trial run of COVID-19 vaccine delivery system during a dry run of Covid-19 vaccination at Rajawadi Hospital, in Mumbai on Friday. (ANI)

According to the union health ministry, 19 states including UTs would receive the Covid vaccine through their suppliers while the remaining 18 states/ UTs will get the vaccine through Government Medical Store Depot (GMSDs). A letter from a senior official of the union health ministry said: “The 19 states and the Union Territories which are likely to receive the first supply of Covid-19 vaccine shortly. The vaccine will be supplied to the identified consignee points of 19 States/UTs: Andhra Pradesh, Assam Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.”

“The vaccine for remaining 18 States/UTs: A & N Island, Arunachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, D & N Haveli Daman & Diu, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh. Lakshadweep, Manipur. Meghalaya. Mizoram, Nagaland, Puducherry, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand will be received from their respective Government Medical Store Depot.”

“The Centre has requested the states to ensure the advance preparation and readiness for the acceptance of forthcoming supply of the vaccine,” said the government letter.

The further distribution of vaccine to the districts will be done per the registered beneficiaries, for which a separate communication will be done. 

Earlier, days after Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) gave approval to two COVID-19 vaccines, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on Tuesday said that India is prepared to roll out vaccine within 10 days of emergency use authorisation (EUA), subject to government’s nod.

“We are prepared to roll out vaccine within 10 days of emergency use authorisation approvals. The final call will be taken by the government,” Union Health Secretary told reporters here at a press briefing. This comes after the DCGI last week announced “restricted emergency use” for two COVID-19 vaccine candidates — Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN and Serum Institute of India’s Covishield.

Talking about the vaccination process, the Health Secretary said that healthcare workers and frontline workers would not need to register themselves as a beneficiary as their data has been stored in a bulk database.

“Healthcare workers and frontline workers would not need to register themselves as a beneficiary as their data in bulk database that has been populated on the Co-WIN vaccine delivery management system in a bulk manner,” said Rajesh Bhushan.

He further said, “When we would come to the population priority group, the provision of registration or editing of data would be used. The system electronically allows session allocation. …The process of session allocation would be digital. Whether the beneficiaries have been vaccinated, this will be captured digitally.”

India’s active COVID-19 cases are less than 2.5 lakhs and are continuing to fall which has led to a decline in the overall burden on the health delivery structure, said Health Secretary.

“The active cases in the country are less than 2.5 lakhs and continue to decline. The positivity rate stood at 1.97 per cent,” he added.

The Health Secretary further said that 44 per cent of active cases are in hospital with moderate or severe symptoms while 56 per cent of cases are very mild or asymptomatic and are in home isolation. 

According to sources, government has prepared a detailed draft for air transportation of COVID-19 vaccines and the movement of vaccine to different parts of the nation is likely to begin soon. “For vaccine transportation across the country, a common draft has been made. It will shortly be shared with stakeholders. The transportation of vaccine is likely to begin by today or tomorrow,” government sources said. Transportation of COVID vaccine module has been finalised by the Government of India.

Government has made several mini-hub in the country for transportation of COVID vaccine. “There is total 41 destinations (airports) across the country finalised for delivery of vaccines,” sources added.

For northern India, Delhi and Karnal will be made mini-hubs. For the eastern region, Kolkata and Guwahati will be the mini-hub for distribution. Guwahati will also be a nodal point for the Northeast. Chennai and Hyderabad will be the designated points for southern India,” sources in Aviation Ministry said.

An internal meeting with several stakeholders and the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Health Ministry with Cargo and airport operators has already taken place regarding the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines across the nation.

Meanwhile, in a related development, after Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tej Pratap Yadav’s statement that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should take the COVID-19 vaccine first, Union minister Nityanand Rai on Friday said the opposition parties are indulging in dirty politics when they question the reliability of indigenous COVID-19 vaccines.

Briefing reporters, the union minister said, “There should not be any politics over the vaccine. The world is applauding the efforts of Indian scientists but Tejashwiji, Akhilesh Yadavji and Rahulji are doing dirty politics. They do not care about the lives of people. They only care for their dynastic politics. I condemn the actions of the opposition parties and pray for their good sense.” Earlier today, Yadav said the Prime Minister should be inoculated first before anybody else. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi should take the first shot of COVID-19 vaccine, then, we will also take it,” stated the RJD leader.

Congress leader Manish Tewari on Tuesday said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has “politically misused” the COVID-19 pandemic and raised question marks on the reliability of the vaccine.

“The BJP government has politically misused the COVID-19 pandemic in its entirety. The controversy over the vaccine is its latest manifestation. Who is going to get himself vaccinated with a vaccine that has question marks on its reliability?” Tewari said.

Earlier on January 2, Akhilesh Yadav had said that he will not get vaccinated against coronavirus for now as the “BJP government cannot be trusted.” 

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