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Celebrating India’s remarkable Covid-19 vaccination drive

Jagat Prakash Nadda writes: It’s time to stop undermining the government’s efforts and come together to mark 100 crore vaccines milestone

India has managed to administer twice the number of vaccine doses as the US, which has administered just over 40.7 crore vaccine doses. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

India began the world’s largest vaccination drive on January 16, 2021, to inoculate its citizens against the Covid-19 virus. In just nine months, we have administered 100 crore doses. Over 74 per cent of the country’s eligible population has received at least one dose of the life-saving vaccine.

India has managed to administer twice the number of vaccine doses as the US, which has administered just over 40.7 crore vaccine doses. This is despite our vaccine drive having started almost a month after the US.

While the world has administered close to 7 billion doses, India alone has administered 1 billion or 100 crore doses — this means that 14 per cent of the doses given were by India, even though our share of the world GDP is only about 3.2 per cent. Clearly, despite the many challenges before us, India managed to punch far above its weight. We have administered more vaccines than the entire European Union put together. Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Sikkim, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Ladakh and Lakshadweep have managed to administer at least one dose to 100 per cent of their eligible adult population. States like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have more people who are fully vaccinated than the entire population of nations including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, Peru and the UAE.

In the last few weeks, India managed to cross the one crore daily vaccination mark at least five times. On Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday on September 17, in a massive Jan Abhiyan, India set a new record by vaccinating 2.5 crore Indians on a single day. The pace of vaccinations has increased dramatically since the Centre took the drive into its own hands after observing that the decentralisation policy wasn’t yielding the results it should have.

While the Covid battle so far has been primarily fought with the two made-in-India vaccines — Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and the indigenously-developed Covaxin by Bharat Biotech — India has also developed the world’s first DNA vaccine, ZyCov-D. But we need to also think about the gargantuan task undertaken by the country in the vaccination process. Imagine a vial of vaccine coming out of a plant in Pune or Hyderabad, going to the Central Drugs Laboratory in Kasauli for testing and then reaching a remote part of the country — all this while ensuring its temperature is in the desired range and being monitored centrally. Imagine the number of truck journeys and flights involved in the transportation process and the number of cold storage facilities required to store 100 crore vaccine doses. Imagine the number of syringes and needles transported to every part of the country.

Unlike in the past, this was a fast, time-bound and well-planned campaign. India developed what is perhaps the world’s best technological tool to ensure an equitable process. PM Modi led from the front in ensuring that there is no VIP culture in vaccination and that the rich and powerful do not jump the queue. The CoWin platform ensured that one could take the two doses at different places without worrying. It also sent timely reminders for the second dose. India not only implemented the world’s largest vaccination programme but also innovated at scale.

Unfortunately, even as India’s priority was and continues to remain “corona virodh”, some in the Opposition continue to prefer Modi virodh. Right from labelling the vaccines as “BJP vaccines” and spreading canards about their safety, which led to initial vaccine hesitancy, to the opportunistic flip flop by some state governments on the procurement of vaccines, and attempts to shift the blame for their own Covid mismanagement on to the central government, this brand of combative politics — as opposed to a much-desired consensual politics — could have been avoided.

An entirely sponsored campaign of calumny and propaganda was unleashed with the intention of tarnishing the efforts of the Modi government even if it harmed India’s international reputation. The opposition parties’ hypocrisy is unparalleled. To undermine India’s historic milestones, they conveniently chose one parameter — measuring the number of vaccines administered relative to the population instead of the absolute number of vaccines. But when it was suggested that while comparing India’s Covid management to the rest of the world, the same metric should be used — India’s Covid fatalities relative to the population — they conveniently chose to measure absolute figures of fatality to once again paint a doomsday scenario.

Take the example of UP. A state with a population of almost 24 crore has managed to contain the number of daily new Covid cases to under 50 for several weeks now and the total active cases are just around 100-odd. The number of fatalities in UP due to Covid is around 23,000. So, a state with 17-18 per cent of India’s population has contributed just about 5 per cent of the total Covid fatalities. UP has managed to administer over 12 crore vaccine doses — the highest number by any state in the country — and has conducted the maximum number of tests at around 8 crore.

On the other hand, models that were much celebrated have been contributing almost 50-60 per cent of the Covid cases and fatalities for the last several weeks, despite representing just 11-12 per cent of India’s population. Kerala, with a population of 3.5 crore — virtually one-seventh of UP’s population — has unfortunately registered over 27,000 fatalities, despite its legacy of having better healthcare infrastructure. Yet, we see a fake narrative being painted against the Centre and BJP-governed states while there is an eloquent silence on the state of affairs in the non-BJP states, like Kerala. There is a concerted effort to target the Kumbh Mela and Kanwar Yatra but silence on the relaxations given during Eid in Kerala, which came under criticism from the Supreme Court as well.

Sadly, there is no vaccine for the pandemic of political cynicism, hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty that tries to undermine the historic milestones of India by peddling half-truths and biased narratives. These milestones don’t belong to one party or one government, but the entire nation. Disliking the person under whose leadership India is soaring to new heights shouldn’t be reason enough to undermine the scientists, healthcare workers and people of India. Eventually, the contagion of lies and propaganda will be defeated by the vaccine of truth and facts.

One of the most effective tools against Covid-19 is social distancing. But in the battle against a pandemic, we must not distance socially and politically, we must unite. National interest is always better served by “sabka saath” and that should be the only driver of our public service during these times. So let us unite and celebrate India’s achievement of giving 100 crore jabs of hope and let us continue to work together to defeat this pandemic.

This column first appeared in the print edition on October 23, 2021 under the title ‘Jabs against cynicism, for hope’. The writer is national president, BJP.

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