Congress leader Manmohan Singh on Sunday told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that ramping up India’s vaccination programme was pertinent to tackle to coronavirus crisis.
“We must resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated,” the former prime minister said in a letter to Modi. “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.”
Nearly 12 crore vaccine doses have been administered so far in India, but only 1.15% of the population has been fully vaccinated so far, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
In his letter, Singh, who was the prime minister before the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014, made five suggestions. He said that the government should publicise the orders placed before vaccine producers 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 scheduled supply,” he wrote.
The government should then indicate how this expected supply is distributed among states based on a transparent formula, Singh said, adding that the Centre could retain 10% of the supplies for emergencies. This would allow states to plan the rollout of the vaccines, he said.
Singh’s statement came amid an alarming rise in Covid-19 cases and a severe vaccine shortage in several states in India. So far, at least 10 states – Kerala, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Punjab and Delhi – have reported vaccine shortages. Cases are also surging in the country.
In his letter, Singh urged the prime minister to give states some flexibility in defining categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years. “For example, states may want to designate school teachers, bus, three-wheeler and taxi drivers, and municipal and panchayat staff, and possibly lawyers who have to attend courts as frontline workers,” the letter said.
Singh also said that the Centre should provide funds and give concessions to vaccine producers to help them expand their manufacturing facilities. He said that it was time to invoke the compulsory licensing provisions to allow a number of companies to produce the vaccines.
Compulsory licensing is when a government allows others to produce a patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner, according to the World Trade Organization. This has been done in the past for medicines to deal with HIV/AIDS, he added.
Lastly, Singh suggested that the Centre should allow the import of vaccines cleared by credible institutions such as the European Medical Agency or the United States Food and Drug Administration without any domestic bridging trials. “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.
India began its vaccination drive on January 16 and has so far administered 12,26,22,590 doses. Both vaccines used by India, Serum Institute of India’s Covaxin and Bharat Biotech’s Covishield, are given in two doses. Last week, India also approved the emergency use of Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V.
On Tuesday, the Centre had fast-tracked emergency approvals for foreign-produced vaccines that have been cleared in other countries.
Meanwhile, India on Sunday reported 2,61,500 new coronavirus cases, an unprecedented figure since the pandemic broke out in January 2020, to take its tally to 1,47,88,109. With 1,501 deaths, the toll jumped to 1,77,150. The country has recorded over 2 lakh infections for the fourth consecutive day.