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Millennium Post

Vaccine promises

With no clarity yet on how and when all Indian citizens will get the Covid vaccine, including it in the Bihar poll manifesto is unethical and opportunistic

The festive season is truly upon us with a slew of festivals lined up that usually make the end of the year the most joyous time for all Indians. While there is no denying that COVID-19 has dealt a blow on all merrymaking, the starkest change is noticeable in the way Durga Puja is being celebrated in West Bengal. Known for magnificent tableaus and 'sarbojonin' (public) celebrations, this year, like the 'pandals', the revelry is understated too. After the Calcutta High Court passed the order to ban the entry of people inside pandals fearing large numbers of infections, even the biggest Pujas bear a deserted look. The streets are the emptiest that one has seen in years, makeshift roadside stalls have been quickly dismantled. Many have opted for virtual tours of the most famous Durga Pujas in the city, but the 'spirit' is ever-present, with sounds of Puja rituals wafting into homes in the mornings and evenings, and Bollywood and Tollywood songs keeping listeners entertained through the day. The city is celebrating albeit in the staidest manner that it has in decades. And suddenly, after months of 'Unlock India', there seems a consciousness of the onslaught of the deadly virus once again.

And this was necessary. Before the High Court passed the order, the images and videos were scary. People (though masked) were thronging puja pandals like in any other year, not even paying heed to the state administration that had been advising people to stay home. The High Court had to step in keeping the public health emergency in mind and while the order was a wet blanket to revellers, it was an astute decision. This year has been most challenging and with the imminent fear of the second wave of Coronavirus infections in winter, we must be over cautious. These precautions must continue until the elusive Covid vaccine becomes available. The most precious commodity and drug in the world today is the Covid vaccine, it's also the most eagerly awaited.

Experts suggest that even if the vaccine is ready for production by mid-2021, it will take another 2-3 years to vaccinate everyone in India. A lot of the vaccine that will be produced will be exported as well. It will be a massive immunisation drive, larger and most urgent than any that India and the world have ever undertaken. Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive officer of Serum Institute of India, claims that Rs 80,000 crore is needed over the next one year to buy and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to all Indian citizens. The government disagrees stating that the government will inoculate as per prioritisation of population with a focus on staggering immunisation. With this view, the government has already started identifying around Rs 30 crore people who will receive the vaccine on priority. This includes healthcare workers, police, sanitisation workers, armed forces, elderly over 50 years of age, and people with comorbidities.

So far, so good, the plan sounds fair. This week, however, when the BJP announced in its poll promises for the upcoming Bihar elections, the distribution of free Covid vaccine was included in its manifesto. Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh have since followed suit. The vaccine is the right of every citizen and a commitment of the Central and state governments to all of us. Making it a poll promise with the view of luring votes is unethical, opportunistic, and simply wrong at so many levels, that I am surprised that the Election Commission of India has not stepped in to scrap it. The EC says that it has cleared policy promises in previous poll manifestos. But the availability and distribution of the Covid vaccine is not just any poll promise. It's not like the giving away of cycles, grain, computers, or pro-farmer policies. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and the access to the Covid vaccine is our fundamental right whether we vote for a particular political party or not.

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal

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