The health minister not just delayed vaccine delivery to Maharashtra but also deflected the blame with a politically-motivated attack on non-BJP governments, especially Maharashtra.
The vaccine rollout began on Jan 16, 2021 with two makes – Covaxin and Covishield. The development of these vaccines and the fast ramp up of production are true testimony of India’s scientific ability and its scientific temperament. The Prime Minister ensured that the Made In India vaccine rolled out not just at home, but in the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, sent these to other nations too. The Prime Minister also waited his turn to get vaccinated and set an example to enable people get over their vaccine hesitancy.
Now, vaccine procurement, distribution and eligibility guidelines are being handled by the central Health Ministry at their discretion, similar to how they took a call on sending PPE kits and ventilators to the states. And states have continuously been giving feedback on how there has to be transparent data-sharing on procurement and allocation of vaccines, only to be ignored by the ministry.
It is now amply clear that different states are facing different challenges. If the central government has regulated the vaccine, then it might as well be open to fulfilling requests from state governments. The second wave has hit the country harder than the first. It is at this time of crisis that the Health Minister of the country first said that there is no shortage of vaccines and then, when asked to send more to the state, not just delayed it but also deflected the blame with a politically-motivated attack on non-BJP governments, especially Maharashtra. We do understand the BJP is still over not being able to form the government in the state despite its unconstitutional tactics, but at the time of the pandemic, choosing to indulge in vaccine politics is the lowest it can fall to.
The need for vaccines in Maharashtra was first highlighted by the Chief Minister in his letter to the Prime Minister with a request to supply more doses since the state ranks at the top of the table in vaccination and is facing a shortage of the same. The speed of the state’s vaccination programme meant that many districts had run out of vaccines and other districts had stocks that could last for only about 48 hours. It is also a fact that the state is facing a high caseload because of the most transparent testing, tracing and reporting protocols. The state has been managing facilities on its own and on the basis of the scientific strategy being applied, and the need for more vaccines, the State Health Minister appealed to the Union Government to release more vaccines and to universalise the process so that the voluntary drive could cover more people. This was also my intent of writing a letter to the Health Minister as several other nations have a dynamic vaccine strategy based on the need of the hour, but for him to respond to these requests through a politically-motivated statement is in bad taste. India has roughly covered around 7% of its population while other nations have covered a large percentage of their population. The reason India’s vaccine drive has to include younger people is because we are a country that has a larger percentage of young population, which PM has called our demographic dividend.
Ever since the pandemic broke, while the states were raising an alarm, we had the ministry go on record to say that Covid is not a concern for India. A year later, we are still reeling with its impact and have hurtled into the second wave; this too the ministry never saw coming. The Health Minister in a recent interview berated people for becoming casual and indisciplined in following COVID-appropriate behaviour, but has not objected to political rallies with gatherings in lakhs; his Twitter timeline has posts on various political rallies happening across the country. Various news stories have shown that states like Gujarat have been vaccinating people above 18 years of age, Karnataka has started a door-to-door vaccine campaign, Haryana has set up vaccination camps in malls – all of flout norms set by the union Heath Ministry; yet, when Maharashtra, with respect for the due process, seeks permission for the same, we are denied. Why this double standard? Why should some states have leeway and some be denied? Why is the state being penalised for strictly adhering to norms?
Since the controversy erupted, many states have spoken up about the shortage and asked the honourable Prime Minister to ensure that central ministers refrain from indulging in vaccine politics. As many vaccination centres in the state shut down temporarily because of a shortage, it is high time that these ministers- including the cheerleaders in the cabinet who jumped in to tweet against the state of Maharashtra – uphold their oath to the constitution and work for all the people of the nation, rather than being their party’s spokespersons.
(Priyanka Chaturvedi is Member of Rajya Sabha and Deputy Leader Shiv Sena)
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