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Manmohan to PM Modi: Make vaccine orders public, give states flexibility

As India reels under the second wave of coronavirus, Manmohan Singh said people are now beginning to wonder when their lives will get back to normal and argued “there are many things we must do to fight the epidemic but a big part of this effort must be ramping up the vaccination programme.”

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: April 19, 2021 3:32:14 am
Manmohan SinghFormer PM De Manmohan Singh. (File)

STRESSING THAT the country is “facing an unprecedented emergency”, former prime minister Manmohan Singh asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a letter on Sunday to make public details of the orders placed by the Government for Covid vaccine doses and indicate the strategy for them to be distributed in a transparent manner.

The senior Congress leader also asked the Prime Minister to provide some flexibility to states to define categories of frontline workers for vaccination even if they are below 45 years of age, which is the current cut-off.

Pointing out that domestic supplies are limited, Singh suggested that any vaccine that has been cleared for use by credible authorities such as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) or the US FDA should be allowed to be imported without insisting on domestic bridging trials.

“First, the government should publicise what are the firm orders for doses placed on different vaccine producers and accepted for delivery over the next six months. If we want to vaccinate a target number in this period, we should place enough orders in advance so that producers can adhere to an agreed schedule of supply,” he said.

Secondly, he said the government should indicate how this supply will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula. “The central government could retain 10 per cent for distribution based on emergency needs, but other than that, states should have a clear signal of likely availability so that they can plan their roll out,” he said.

Singh’s letter comes at a time when several states have flagged a vaccine shortage with the daily casecount topping 2.6 lakh Sunday. The Centre’s expert panel last week recommended emergency use authorisation (EUA) for Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccine. US pharma giant Johnson & Johnson has communicated to the Indian regulator that it will soon begin bridging clinical trials of its vaccine.

On Saturday, the Congress Working Committee accused the Government of “colossal mismanagement” of the fight against the pandemic. The CWC claimed that the Centre had failed on 14 fronts, including scaling up production and supply of the two approved vaccines by providing sufficient funds and other concessions.

In his letter, Singh argued that states should be given some flexibility to define categories of frontline workers. He said that some of them, for instance, may want to designate school teachers, drivers of buses, three-wheelers and taxis, municipal and panchayat staff, and possibly lawyers who have to attend courts, under that category. “They can then be vaccinated even if they are below 45,” he said.

Singh also asked the Prime Minister to proactively support vaccine producers to expand their manufacturing facilities quickly by providing funds and other concessions.

“In addition, I believe this is the time to invoke the compulsory licensing provisions in the law, so that a number of companies are able to produce the vaccines under a licence. This, I recall, had happened earlier in the case of medicines to deal with the HIV/AIDS disease. As far as Covid-19 is concerned, I have read that Israel has already invoked the compulsory licensing provision and there is an overwhelming case for India to do so as well quickly,” he said.

Suggesting that any vaccine that has been cleared for use by credible authorities should be allowed to be imported, he said “experts are of the view that this relaxation is justified in an emergency”.

“The relaxation could be for a limited period during which the bridging trials could be completed in India. All consumers of such vaccines could be duly cautioned that these vaccines are being allowed for use based on the approval granted by the relevant authority abroad,” he said.

Here’s the full text of Manmohan Singh’s letter to PM

Pointing out that the key to the fight against Covid is ramping up vaccination, he said: “We must resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated.”

“Currently, India has vaccinated only a small fraction of its population. I am certain that with the right policy design, we can do much better and very quickly. I hope the government will accept these suggestions immediately and act on them promptly,” Singh said.

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