By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
After the Indian government approved two vaccines : Astra Zeneca launched by Seram Institute, Pune and Bharat Biotech which developed it with the help of ICMR and has the government of India backing it up fully, the dalal media has gone overboard to launch the maximum propaganda work for the government after it was found that Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin has given approval bypassing procedures and norms as the data of Phase Three trials have not yet out and there has not been peer review of the entire exercise. One of India’s top most vaccine scientist, Prof Gagandeep Kang questioned the process and said while she is ready to volunteer for a vaccine trial, she is not ready to vaccinate particularly the Bharat Biotech vaccine. In an interview to Karan Thapar, in The Wire, Professor Gagandeep Kang said that without efficacy data no vaccine should be cleared and agreed that this means the clearance given to Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin without efficacy data has been done on the wrong basis. She said she found the limited approval given to the Bharat Biotech vaccine without Phase 3 trial efficacy “extremely confusing”.
Nothing happened in the Sarkari circles but BJP IT cell and ministers started targeting Akhilesh Yadav when Samajwadi Party President said that though he has full confidence in the Indian doctors and scientists yet he is not going to get ‘vaccinated’ BJP’s political vaccine. Frankly speaking, Akhilesh Yadav was questioning the way the government rushed to give clearance to Bharat Biotech along with Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccines. Nobody was questioning about the efficacy of the data but the procedures and process which create doubts in public minds. Why should Akhilesh Yadav be targeted just because he questioned the entire process of approval and the way public health crisis was allowed to escalate during the lock down period. Political parties have a duty to raise questions because this issue is related to public health safety. We all know that the government technically represent the people’s will as it has been elected by us but at the same point of time opposition too is part of the structure and duty bound to remind the government about its failure to include all in the entire process.
While Akhilesh Yadav was criticised by the central Ministers and BJP IT cell, in Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shiv Raj Singh Chauhan, was giving instruction to his administrative team about the vaccination process to be adopted and unsurprisingly ( those who know Indian political class of the nationalist variety), said that he wont get vaccinated first. “I have decided that I will not get vaccinated for now. First it should be administered to others. My turn should come afterwards. We have to work to ensure that priority groups are administered with the vaccine,” Chouhan said, according to news agency ANI.
The same day, we listened to Baba Ramdev on various channels saying that he will not take the vaccination as he fully ‘trust’ Yoga. He says people with comorbidities should be given the vaccine first. The question is it is the same Ram Dev baba who claimed he has ‘found’ the treatment for Coronavirus. If Ram Dev has so much of faith in the vaccine then he should opt for the same but by suggesting that he would not take it and Yoga can do it, Ramdev is sending a message that those who do ‘Yoga’ will not have it.
How will the Indian political class ensure that people have faith in these vaccines without taking the first does of it. Some TV channels started to work by sending their reporters to get ‘vaccinated’ and then started ‘claiming’ as ‘nothing’ happened to them. Is this the way to promote a vaccine? Do clinical trials happen in such a way when a person starts claiming in 24 hours as ‘nothing’ happened to her. The fact is the way India hurriedly approved its vaccination programme has created an international embarrassment as well as concern with the Washington Post putting the headline as ‘ India’s vaccine nationalism is a global risk’.
World over leaders have offered themselves to be vaccinated first to give a boost to the scientist community and build confidence of the people in the vaccination programme. United States President elect Joe Biden got vaccinated on December 20th. American Vice President Ms Kamala Harris too got the vaccination shot on December 29h. Three former American Presidents Mr Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama have approached America’s agencies dealing with the issue to vaccinate them live on TV. Saudi Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was the first to get vaccinated in his country. Russian President Vladimir Putin got his daughter vaccinated first while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson too is getting vaccinated soon. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has got himself vaccinated first. There are many other world leaders who said that they will be the first one to take the vaccination whenever it starts in their country.
In India, we are hearing preaching and publicity. It is not time to show your ‘bravery’ but to build confidence in the public. Haryana’s Minister Anil Viz offered him a trial shot of Covexin by Bharat Biotech but was found Covid positive after some days. He was admitted in Medanta hospital for nearly one month and is now recuperating in his home.
The vaccination process has to be simple and without any claims and counterclaims. It is the issue of public safety and building up an inclusive society too. Scientists have done their work and health workers too have risked their life in saving us so they need not to thank the political leadership all the time. An unfortunate situation was created when Bharat Biotech and Seram Institute publicly challenged each other. No scientist ever says that his work is 110% or 200% risk free. I have not come across any such claim by any saner person who believes in reasoning. Any one speaking like this looks like a street vendor who wants to sell his product to any one at any cost. Such terminology from senior persons should not have happened as they only dilute the seriousness of the entire process as well as the vaccine. It is not the question of Indian scientists or others but the issue of public safety for which we need to follow the norms and procedures. Just because some Indian is claiming he has made the vaccine should not make us proud as Indians are now everywhere in the world and are some of the most respected doctors and scientists working at international institutions developing these vaccines hence we need not be worried about that aspect. Tomorrow, Ramdev may claim he has ‘developed’ so we should not jump to take his advice unless it is processed duly by the agencies responsible to make the approval.
None of us say that we can’t do it but it is the duty of the government to follow the process of approval strictly. We have waited for so long and will wait for more but let the things are done in a transparent way. You can blame Akhilesh Yadav for being ‘political’ but what about Prof Gagandeep Kang? If Akhilesh Yadav is wrong then how can Shivraj Singh Chauhan be right in not taking the vaccine first ?
We wish all our political leaders good health. We need them and hence if they have health issues, they should go by their doctor’s advice but they should do everything not to convert the entire exercise into a propaganda machinery as it will hurt more. Vaccination of the population should be beyond your party politics and it should be celebrated as victory of science over dreaded disease. We must celebrate it together to bring people together because we will need a much more powerful ‘vaccine’ to prevent hatred and prejudices increasing rapidly in our society. Let us hope good sense prevails and the entire vaccination programme is successful. We wish good health and success to our doctors, health workers, scientists, sanitation workers and all those engaged in the process.