India’s COVID Immunization Program is a Model for Democracies

Delivering vaccines by drones

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

On October 2, 2021, on Mahatma Gandhi’s 152nd birth anniversary, India quietly reached a milestone in its fight against SARS-COV2 (COVID-19) pandemic. On that day, a country home to nearly 1.4 billion people, India administered its 900 millionth (100 millions on October 21) jab of COVID-19 vaccines. 

The most remarkable aspect of India’s immunization program has been the absence of governmental threats, coercion, mandates, and manipulations. This feat is a testament to India’s Pradhan Mantri (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s relentless and determined hard work and honest and trustworthy leadership.

India was hit by the Second Wave of the COVID-19 virus in May 2021. The country’s healthcare infrastructure was overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases. People were lining up outside hospitals. ICU beds, medical oxygen, ventilators, etc., were in short supply. Social media feeds were flooded with the request for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and doses of therapeutic medicines.

Domestic and international media blamed Modi for mismanaging the pandemic. They also blamed Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) political rallies in West Bengal. The state was in the process of electing the new Vidhan Sabha, the state’s legislative assembly. All major political parties participated in electioneering. The Election Commission of India, an autonomous constitutional body, runs all elections in India under its strict guidelines. 

The partisan critics also blamed the Hindu festival of Kumbh for the Second Wave. Studies have shown no evidence of any significant spread of the aerosol-based virus in outdoor settings. In assigning blame, the critics ignored several outdoor mass protests, rioting, NFL and NBA victory celebrations, etc., in the US and elsewhere. None of them lead to an outbreak. 

PM Modi is known for his disaster management abilities. The 2001 earthquake in Gujarat’s Kutch region is an example of his management skills. BJP’s central leadership brought Modi in as Gujarat’s Mukhya Mantri (Chief Minister). Modi traveled extensively throughout the state and learned the workings of the state administration on the job.

To overcome vaccination bottlenecks, Modi’s federal government took over the purchase of vaccines from state governments. According to the Wall Street Journal report, many states had either failed or struggled to procure the required amount of vaccine doses. To meet the domestic demand, Modi also stopped the export of vaccines through its much-touted Vaccine-Maitri (Vaccine Friendship) program. Modi also made critical changes in his ministerial portfolios.

Soon, immunization picked up significantly, and India started administering 3 million doses of vaccines per day. By mid-September, according to NPR, India was jabbing up to 25 million doses of vaccine per day. 

To immunize more people with at least one dose of the vaccines, the Modi government strategically stretched the time required between two doses to 16 weeks. India’s healthcare workers have worked tirelessly, traveling treacherous hills and navigating rivers to inoculate citizens in remote areas. The government has used various methods — from performers  to drones — to achieve its inoculation goals.

PM Modi’s appeal has also helped the inoculation drive. Modi enjoys one of the highest approval ratings of a democratic leader. His trust quotient is very high among Indians. He comes from a non-aristocratic non-dynastic, humble background, much like a majority of aspirational Indians. In his 20 years in politics, there have been no corruption charges against him. He has been able to rally ordinary Indians with his slogan of ‘COVID-free nation.’ 

On the other hand, immunization drives have faltered in the US and become highly controversial due to mandates, threats, condescension, questions about efficacy & adverse events, etc. For example, Dr. Anthony Fauci’s flip-flop about the effectiveness of masks and WHO changing the definitions of ‘vaccine’ and ‘herd immunity’ has fuelled the mistrust in public health institutions and leadership.  

COVID-19 vaccines are a remarkable development in science. They are also considered the ‘safest’ available treatment against COVID-19. However, mandating vaccines as a condition for employment, travel,or  patronizing restaurants, without considering individual medical needs and concerns, raises questions about human rights and liberty. 

The mandates have created shortages of workers, including in healthcare. According to the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, “Biden’s needless order puts employers in a legal quandary. Whatever they do, they will be violating the law. This isn’t fair to businesses.” Many teachers, police, airline pilots’ unions have taken the government to courts to fight mandates. Citizens in France, Italy, Germany, Australia, and many other countries have protested these mandates.

“The idea that everybody needs to be vaccinated,” wrote Martin Kulldorff (a professor at Harvard Medical School) and Jay Bhattacharya (a professor at Stanford Medical School) in their op ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, “is as scientifically baseless as the idea that nobody does. Covid vaccines are essential for older, high-risk people and their caretakers and advisable for many others. But those who’ve been infected are already immune.” 

According to studies, COVID-19 vaccines provide a firewall against infections and protect us from severe illness and death. However, contrary to the earlier promises of the real-life efficacy of the vaccine, studies now show that COVID-19 vaccines’ effectiveness wanes over time, necessitating boosters. For example, the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness “fell to 90%, 85% and 78% after 30, 60 and 90 days, respectively.” 

Studies have suggested that vaccines do not stop the spread of the virus. “Vaccines reduce but don’t prevent transmission,” writes Joseph Ladapo in the Wall Street Journal. Ladapo is an associate professor at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

Rare cases of heart inflammation, blood clots in young men after the second dose of the vaccine have been reported. UK’s medicine regulator body is also investigating more than 27,000 cases of period changes in the past nine months after the COVID-19 vaccination.  

Also, the singular focus on vaccines, denial of the robustness of natural immunity and alternative treatments (like the one President Trump received), and data manipulation and misrepresentation by public health institutions and leaders has created a trust deficit in science itself. The medical journal The Lancet (and the New England Journal of Medicine) retracted a study involving hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) after investigators discovered several inconsistencies in data. The study attempted to determine if the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, and its older version, chloroquine, could help treat patients with COVID-19. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) misrepresented the data “to cast an increase in teen hospitalization in the worst possible light,” wrote Monica Gandhi and Jeanne Noble, from the University of California, San Francisco, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. The most troubling aspect of the CDC data was a significant increase in “psychiatric emergencies, not Covid.” 

Many democracies have turned into authoritarian police states to achieve an untenable goal of ‘zero-covid.’ For example, some of the gravest human rights violations in COVID mitigation are occurring in Australia. Citizens have been put under strict lockdown and surveillance. 

From “bending the curve in 2 weeks” to almost 2 years into the pandemic, our public health leadership has failed to mitigate the situation. Lockdowns and mandates have not helped the UK, Israel, Australia, or New Zealand in containing the virus either. On the other hand, Florida has defied all Faucian diktats yet hasn’t done any worse comparatively. World democracies need a focussed and compassionate approach towards COVID mitigation. Threats and mandates are for tyrannical dictatorships.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.


 

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