On Tuesday, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was interacting with floor leaders of opposition parties on the Covid issue, came good news. The fourth national serosurvey findings released by the Indian Council of Medical Research, show that 67.6 per cent of Indians have antibodies against the SARS-CoV2 virus, while at least one-third of the population is still vulnerable.
The ICMR chief Dr. Balram Bhargava however cautioned that we should not jump to quick conclusions because there are many districts across India where the positivity rate is still high. “The findings show there is a ray of hope, but there is no room for complacency. We have to maintain Covid-appropriate behaviour and community engagement”, he said.
According to the ICMR findings, the highest sero-positivity (77.6 per cent) was found in the age group between 45 and 60 years, but not in the 18-44 age group, which is very much mobile. Children showed the lowest exposure to Covid as compared to other age groups. This report has instilled confidence in the minds of policymakers and healthcare workers.
At the all-party meet, Prime Minister Modi gave a detailed presentation on Covid management. The meeting was attended by DMK, Shiv Sena, Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal, TRS, YSR Congress, BSP and others, but boycotted by Congress, Akali Dal, Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party, RJD and Left parties. The parties which skipped the all-party meet had earlier promised to raise the Covid mismanagement issue in Parliament.
Modi, while interacting with floor leaders, spoke about the arrangements that have been made to counter a potential third wave of Covid pandemic. He also spoke about efforts to boost the production of Covid vaccines in order to scale up the vaccination drive.
The Prime Minister spoke about the Centre’s aim to set up at least one oxygen plant in every district of India. He also asked all state governments to properly plan vaccination drives at the district level. Modi said a large number of health care workers and frontline workers are yet to get the vaccine, even after six months since the vaccination drive started.
In the Rajya Sabha, there was a full-fledged debate on the Covid issue, in which 26 members from 23 parties took part. Most of the MPs spoke about the devastating second wave that caused the deaths of several lakhs of people and asked the government to make preparations to counter the third wave. Congress leader Mallikarjun Khadge led the charge and questioned the official death toll asking “Will the number of deaths due to Covid remain a mystery forever?” Khadge alleged that more than 30 lakh people have died of Covid in nearly six lakh villages across India, whereas the official death toll is confined to only four lakhs.
During the debate, most of the members raised the issue of vaccine shortage, while other members raised questions about the floating of bodies in river Ganga, migration of labourers and large-scale deaths due to lack of oxygen. In his first intervention as Health Minister, Mansukh Mandaviya appealed to all sections not to politicize the Covid pandemic issue, because it required all-round cooperation from all sections of people to counter the danger of a third wave.
Mandaviya was emphatic and spoke to the point. He said, vaccine supplies were improving and goals will be met. He said, companies manufacturing Covishield, Sovaxin and Sputnik V have boosted their efforts and very soon the shortage will be over. India, he said, may become the first country in the world to develop a DNA-based vaccine, being prepared by Zydus Cadila. The third phase of the trial has been completed and emergency use authorisation has been sought from the Drugs Controller General of India. If production starts, Mandaviya said, this will be the first DNA vaccine developed by Indian scientists. He also said it will not be appropriate to say the third wave will hit children more. He cited data from the first and second waves to buttress his claim.
I appreciate the manner in which Mandaviya handled the debate and replied to queries from members with full confidence. He had taken charge of health ministry only two weeks ago, but he had facts ready at his fingertips. He did not try to duck questions even once.
Till now, the Centre had been claiming that adequate vaccine stocks were available, and when people returned empty-handed from vaccination centres, a sort of mistrust grew in the minds of people. Mandaviya, on Tuesday, admitted that there was a vaccine shortage and vaccines were not being manufactured on a scale required by different states. He also explained the reasons behind vaccine shortage. Now that vaccine hesitancy has almost declined among the people, the demand for vaccines has gone up.
There are reports from across the world about countries, where more than 50 per cent of people who have taken both doses of vaccine, need not go to hospitals if they are infected with Covid. Hence the need to boost domestic production and procure more vaccines through export. Many of the MPs asked the Centre to get WHO recognition for Covaxin that has been indigenously developed in India.
After hearing Mandaviya speak, I am confident that we are now moving in the right direction on issues relating to vaccines and preparations to counter the third wave. The Prime Minister, too, at the all-party meeting appealed to all political parties and state governments to join hands in fighting the pandemic. There must be no scope for politicizing issues related to the pandemic. The ICMR report on 68 per cent of Indians having Covid antibodies has given a ray of hope and relief, but there must be no scope for complacency. Let us fight and win this war, together.
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