India’s vaccination journey shows it is leading the global fight against the pandemic

By Priyam Gandhi-Mody

Recently, India passed the milestone of fully vaccinating 80% of its adult population, achieving over 97% with the first dose, administering over 175 million doses – no average figure by any feat.

As the media covered this story, a coverage from not so long ago comes to mind when several sections and “experts” reported that India would take 10-12 years to fully vaccinate its people. . By crossing such a historic figure, India has demonstrated that it is leading the global fight to emerge from the pandemic.

As the second most populous country in the world, India’s ability to overcome the pandemic goes hand in hand with global efforts. When the pandemic hit, India lacked almost all the tools needed to fight a global pandemic – PPE kits, test kits, masks, ventilators, essential medicines and vaccines.

However, the Prime Minister’s insistence on increasing domestic production rather than relying on imports made India self-sufficient and secure in a short time.

This aatmanirbharta, a drift of a decades-long process of thinking about Western fascination, has been particularly crucial in our efforts to develop and produce vaccines.

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Almost at the same time as the United States was launching Operation Warp Speed ​​to accelerate its vaccine development efforts, Prime Minister Modi was hosting a series of meetings with advisers and scientists on the development of an indigenous vaccine and the increasing the capacities of existing manufacturers.

In a short time, ICMR isolated the strain and Bharat Biotech was able to demonstrate proof of concept. Simultaneously, Serum Institute of India (SII) had partnered with AstraZeneca to manufacture Covishield in India. Meanwhile, by mid-2020, our task force had entered into conversations with Johnson&Johnson, Pfizer, Moderna and Sputnik, along with other nations placing orders with them.

The Prime Minister’s mandate to foreign companies was clear – manufacture the vaccines in India and the government will walk hand in hand to ensure a seamless experience. However, while J&J and Sputnik agreed on a technology transfer model in order to manufacture the vaccines in India, Pfizer and Moderna refused to do so.

They insisted that the Indian government buy the vaccines from them, placing orders in advance. Although not ideal, the GoI was not opposed to the idea since these doses would secure the Indian population.

However, in subsequent conversations with them, the quantities they were willing to supply – 5 crore and 70 lakh, respectively, by mid-2021, compared to liability waiver claims associated with waiver of liability. Sovereign immunity was simply not acceptable to us. Never grasping the conversations with them, the Indian government has focused its efforts on strengthening our national businesses.

The Prime Minister led from the front, even visiting three of our facilities to boost the morale of our scientists and industrialists.

When SII encountered an obstacle in sourcing raw materials, 200 of which came from outside the country, since the United States had banned exports, the Indian government, through behind-the-scenes talks, assured that the United States- United lifted embargo on exports to India.

The GoI also ensured that enough raw materials were supplied by US-based manufacturers for SII to manufacture the quantities we needed. Advance funds were provided so that SII could purchase machinery and raw materials in time, at a premium rate, to produce such large quantities.

When Covaxin and Covishield were ready and approved for EUA, opposition backed by sections of the media made concerted efforts to question their credibility, fueling vaccine hesitancy.

Congressman Anand Sharma questioned why the Indian government was not asking the UK for AstraZeneca’s trial data while MP Shashi Tharoor questioned the regulatory process followed for Covaxin.

Samajwadi Party (SP) Chairman Akhilesh Yadav refused to take the vaccine, calling it a BJP vaccine. Studies have now shown that because of his statement, vaccine uptake in SP stronghold districts remained low, until he and his father took the vaccine publicly, months later.

This kind of political mischief to fuel vaccine hesitancy has proven detrimental in many countries around the world. Canada recently saw the Freedom Convoy, a series of protests and blockades against vaccination mandates.

The UK just a few years ago had to cancel its vaccination mandate for NHS staff, after large numbers of healthcare workers threatened to quit. India would have met the same fate had it not been for the prime minister’s steady hand in throwing away decades of bureaucracy in scientific establishments and enabling an ecosystem where multiple vaccines have been developed, tested and received global approval.

His method of communicating directly with the people of the country through regular national television addresses, explaining the reasons for his decisions, ensured the rallying of the citizens behind him. The frequent meetings with the chief ministers gave the impression that India was acting as one team – Team India, instilling confidence in the people of the country.

Among Indians who used to trust foreign-made vaccines, the Prime Minister’s picture on vaccine certificates has helped create a sense of confidence in vaccines, especially in rural areas where rumors and superstitions were likely to quickly take over, as in the case of SP Bastions. Taking the world by surprise, India failed to achieve this widespread vaccination coverage by mandating vaccines – a position that many countries have and embrace. Instead, mass communication campaigns were carried out by the government, emphasizing the effectiveness and benefits of vaccines.

Celebrities, religious leaders, community leaders, social workers, radio jockeys and media people have been enlisted in this ecosystem to get the right message out to the last Indian. Door-to-door vaccination campaigns were conducted to reach those who were unable to travel to vaccination centres.

As a result of these meticulously planned efforts, India is now witnessing its rise as the ‘pharmacy of the world’. Not only did he secure his own people, but he also pledged to provide 5 billion doses of affordable vaccine by the end of this year, in all countries, to lead the global effort to fight the disease. pandemic. In the new world order, this effort will certainly be remembered as an important step in ending the Covid-19 pandemic.

The author is a political and communications strategist. A Nation to Protect: Leading India Through the Covid Crisis is his third book