Updated: January 18, 2021 8:42:54 am
Nearly 2 lakh healthcare workers received anti-COVID shots as the first phase of inoculation got underway on January 16. During a pandemic that has stressed all sections of society, such workers have borne the brunt, fighting the contagion from the frontlines and watching many of their colleagues succumb to it. They deserve the nation’s gratitude for their resolve in face of difficult odds, and the scientific, regulatory and administrative agencies laurels for the remarkable alacrity in rolling out the vaccine. It’s only apt, therefore, the healthcare workers have received priority in the vaccination drive. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly underlined the sanctity of the precedence accorded to them and frontline workers. Politicians should not jump the queue, he has stressed. Following the PM’s instructions, Telangana’s Health Minister Eatala Rajender, who had reportedly talked of taking the first shot in his state, recanted his decision. In a country, where politicians don’t always wait their turn, such rectitude is heartening. We should remain vigilant against the unpredictable virus and not let our guard down. Is there a case, then, for broadening the criteria of frontline workers to include parliamentarians and legislators? A day before the dry run, in an interaction with the Union Health Minister, Bihar, Odisha and Telangana requested the Centre to include elected representatives from all levels to be included in the priority population.
With limited vaccine supplies, at least in the initial phase of the inoculation drive, choosing from competing sets of vulnerabilities, is a tricky proposition. To their credit, policymakers have come to a fair resolution of the predicament. From the standpoint of curbing the transmission rate too, the decision to inoculate healthcare workers first makes sense. But with the COVID curve bending appreciably in the past two weeks, the argument that those involved in public services at least, the country’s lawmakers, be deemed as frontline workers deserves serious consideration. This would, in any case, mean an addition of less than 6,000 people to the list — in the first phase. In the past 10 months, the government has wielded the safety argument to restrict political activity, including cancelling or abbreviating Parliament’s activities. The vaccine rollout affords a chance to bring functions crucial to the working of a democracy on a normal keel.
One of the imperatives in the coming months and weeks, will be to build public confidence in the vaccines. The decision of political leaders in many parts of the world to take the first jab is, therefore, much more than optics. That leading figures of the country’s healthcare system including director of AIIMS, Randeep Guleria, took the shots on the first day of the drive in India should be seen as a part of the arsenal of persuasion and assurance, crucial to a process known to make people edgy. The government would do well now to make lawmakers part of such signalling.
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