Despite knowing that vaccination is the only way forward, the leaders seem to have shown no urgency to implement a new policy for a compulsory vaccination plan.
India has been dominating world news for all the wrong reasons since the second wave of the corona broke out. Embarrassing as it is, the fact is despite international pressure, since most mainstream media has just become an extension of the government, there seems to be no accountability. There have been severe failures, starting with the delay in rolling out the national vaccine plan. This one year was enough to let us know this virus is not going away anywhere yet. Despite knowing that vaccination is the only way forward, the leaders seem to have shown no urgency to implement a new policy for a compulsory vaccination plan, on the lines of polio and other vaccination programmes in India.
A few years ago, as I entered the Charni Road station from the seaside, two government volunteers accosted me, asking if I had children and if they had been administered the polio drops. That is the kind of urgency and quick response one expects from the government.
At the outset, the Prime Minister had a clear picture about hotspots and the extent of the outbreak, going by his video conferences. The news of the second wave too was no secret. Volunteers could have been enrolled, shots could have been given and like in the US, where they are now giving jabs outside subways, here too it should have been made so simple for people to take the jabs. But not even the bedridden, sick and disabled seem to have been given any facility to get their shot with the barest modicum of convenience. None of this seems to have been thought through and was allowed to drown in poll hyperbole.
Moreover, to help people understand the importance of this vaccine, similar to those hideous advertisements against tobacco that we have to endure at a cinema hall, the government of India should have immediately asked private advertising companies to make educative films on the repercussions of not taking the vaccine, with data and facts. Instead of those annoying messages that we have to listen to all the while for over a year now, (at least now, we are spared ‘Main Amitabh Bachchan bol raha hoon’), the government should have released advertisements on Doordarshan, All India Radio and all the FMs. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s stupid and absolutely useless IT cell could have been activated to spread accurate information on vaccination, or wait, could they have?
Actually, in May, the government said they would expand the vaccine procurement policy to cover all adults and the vaccines would be available between August and December 2021. However, it still isn’t clear how the government is going to deal with availability, distribution and prioritisation of age groups. Senior citizens are still struggling to get their shots and have been pinning their hopes on the court case going on in the Bombay High Court. The bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni slammed the Central government for not allowing the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation to undertake door-to-door vaccination drive. They asked the municipal commissioner to file an affidavit and inform the court when they could start this drive.
The Central government has passed the buck to the states, asking them to procure vaccines directly from the pharmaceutical companies. Now, that is not happening as there are liability clauses and many of the permissions can be given only by the Central government. This entire time, it seems as though the Union government has taken the country for a good ride, while patting itself on its vaccine diplomacy earlier this year. The fact is that not even the basic calculation of India’s requirement for the vaccine was done.
But instead of having SOPs in place and rolling out a good action plan, we have been seeing the disgusting manner in which the Centre has resorted to dirty politics, especially against all the non-BJP ruled states, blaming them for being the hotspots of the virus. Suddenly, after months of amnesia, leaders and more ‘woke’ media awoke to the farmers’ protests and are blaming them for spreading corona. Since last September, the farmers have been protesting at various borders of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab and have set up camps outside New Delhi. The Indian government shows no signs of withdrawing the three laws which are against the farmers but have cautioned them for being ‘super spreaders’ of the new virus variant detected in India. The health officials have cautioned against the protests, though nowhere have the Sikh farmers seen to have been reckless or not following safety protocols, so far. These are not just fears, but a ploy to distract the public from the vaccine chaos. Suddenly, the government, leaders and prominent editors are echoing these sentiments.
In America, when the #BlackLivesMatter protests were on, we had heard similar sentiments from Conservatives, who seemed to blame the movement for being super spreaders. But such was not the case. Much like in India, the time the virus spread, was during the presidential polls, especially during Donald Trump’s rallies, where he and his followers did not wear masks. Black Lives protesters had diligently followed all corona safety protocols. However, health officials had cautioned about the health hazard. Suddenly, all those who were living under restrictions had come out in large numbers, just like the farmers are being accused. But unlike the farmers’ protests, where they have been camping and maintaining protocols, the Maha Kumbh was a super spreader event, as lakhs of bodies brushed each other as they took a dip in the river, throwing all caution to the winds. The same has been the case during the West Bengal polls. Many Army personnel who were on poll duty returned to their postings, as carriers of the virus, be it in Assam, Himachal Pradesh or other areas in the country.
If only the head of the state were to think good of his people, then they would not have enforced such herd immunity events, because instead of building antibodies, bodies have begun to pile up. Sad and unfortunate to iterate, the government has predictably played on the religious sentiment of its millions of followers, making them the super spreaders. But they obviously seem to have special political patronage and that is cheap politics, at the cost of our vast majority.
Unfortunately, the world seems to be riding high on sentiment. International Olympic Committee President John Coates has said they will be going ahead with the Tokyo Olympics. Among developed nations, Japan has the lowest number of vaccinations, with only 4.4 per cent of its population having been jabbed. There is shortage of hospital beds and a state of emergency has been declared in few of their districts.
Neeta Kolhatkar is a senior journalist with over 30 years of work experience across different media platforms. She is currently a freelancer and media consultant.
(Views Expressed Are Personal)
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