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Stepping back

For the safety and dignity of the nation in such troubling times, vaccine politics must be shunned by all political parties

Stepping back
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The vaccine politics which surfaced first during the Bihar assembly elections in November last when the vaccine was nowhere in sight have now peaked with worldwide news of vaccines being ready. While all other nations are discussing the vaccine for the virus and its efficacy in scientific terms in India, unfortunately, the debate is more political in nature while those actually going to receive the jabs remained uninformed and ignorant of what is happening around them. Not that this is the first time the vaccination issue has been politicised. Earlier when the Government reportedly fixed a deadline for the vaccination and ICMR responded positively it was alleged by the opponents that the scientific body is being pressured to come out with a vaccine to suit electoral politics. That subsided somehow but free vaccine to all promise became the norm for all the parties across the states including left ruled Kerala. When politics was played when the vaccine was not ready can the political parties lag behind when a vaccine is claimed to be ready by the Government of India?

The Central Drugs and Standards Committee (CDSCO) has formally approved the COVID-19 vaccination by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, a Hyderabad-based company. Covishield vaccine by SII is based on the Oxford AstraZeneca is given conditional approval and the efficacy is reported to be 70.4 per cent based on the phase three trials conducted in the UK and Brazil while data of similar phase three trials made in India on 1,600 volunteers spread across 17 cities or not made public. The Covaxin developed by the Bharat Biotech and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has completed phase one and two trials. It has also apparently cleared phase three trials with 22,500 volunteers but its efficacy data has not yet been made public.

Dr Guleria, Director AIIMS, New Delhi has assured by saying that "the safety and efficacy date from clinical trials of vaccine candidates are examined thoroughly by the drug regulator of our country before granting licenses for the same and are comparable to other countries". The Subject Expert Committee which deliberated for two days on granting the approval to the vaccine and the Health Ministry has stated that Indian vaccine's efficacy in Indian volunteers is comparable with that tested in overseas trials. The news that at least 12 countries have expressed interest in the indigenous vaccines is something which boosts the confidence of India.

The political slugfest started with SP chief's barb at the vaccine. Yadav stated that the vaccines were "BJP vaccines and that he can't take that political vaccine". He furthermore stated that "once SP comes into power in UP after 2022 assembly elections, we will have our own vaccine and everybody will get it free", a statement that has drawn flak from the BJP. While this may have been an attempt to consolidate a vote-bank, such assertions can serve to sow seeds of doubt in those who are more gullible.

The Congress party's objections seem specifically directed at Covaxin, a totally Indian made vaccine while the SII produced Covishield is welcomed by that party because of foreign collaboration involved in its production. Congress leaders termed the approval for indigenous Covaxin as "premature" and asked for the avoidance of Covaxin as "it could be dangerous". The other leader of Congress, Anand Sharma, who heads the Home Ministry Parliamentary panel and which has deliberated on the COVID-19 management plan, was sceptical as "data on safety and efficacy of Covaxin has not been reviewed". Though outwardly the Congress leaders are speaking with the safety of the people, the earlier criticism of "delays in the production of the vaccine" is at odds with current statements regarding the rush of approvals".

The conversation was further derailed when such criticism was opposed by injecting nationalism into the conversation by claiming the opposition was not proud of anything that is made in India.

Fortunately, other political parties including AAP, BSP have not joined this wordy duel of two main national parties though their reactions have a political slant as they refused to credit the Government for the vaccination development and are ready only to commend the scientific and research community for their successful effort.

Through the political war of vaccines, the parties are degrading themselves and also the stature of the country in the scientific field. The WHO welcomed the emergency use authorisation given by the Government of India as it will help to intensify and strengthen the fight against the ongoing pandemic and hailed India as the first nation to do so in South-East Asia. The internal tussle by mixing vaccine and politics will only serve to send a wrong message and also lower the image of the country.

Vaccines are never known to be 100 per cent successful in the initial stages and even the current vaccines developed may not have that guarantee. Some failures are bound to happen and so are some fatalities as reported in other countries. But that shouldn't be made into a political issue to settle old scores. Covid is a pandemic and it should be fought unitedly and all political parties should agree on this for the safety of all Indians.

Views expressed are personal

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