How to do it: Manmohan writes to PM on Covid
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a letter to his successor Narendra Modi, said on Sunday that ramping up the vaccination drive was critical to the fight against the coronavirus and offered suggestions how this could be done.
“The government should publicise what are the firm orders for doses placed on different vaccine producers and accepted for delivery over the next six months. If we want to vaccinate a target number in this period, we should place enough orders in advance so that producers can adhere to an agreed schedule of supply,” Singh wrote.
The government should also “indicate how this expected supply will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula”, which would allow the states to plan the rollout, he said. The Centre could retain 10 per cent of the supplies for emergency distribution, Singh suggested.
The senior leader, who as Prime Minister had shepherded India through the global downturn of 2008 and as finance minister had pulled the country out of its worst economic crisis into an era of prosperity, advised Modi to invest in the vaccination campaign.
Over the past few decades India has emerged as the world’s largest producer of vaccines, Singh said, with the capacity largely in the private sector.
“At this moment of a public health emergency, the government must proactively support vaccine producers to expand their manufacturing facilities quickly by providing funds and other concessions,” he wrote.
“In addition, I believe this is the time to invoke the compulsory licensing provisions in the law, so that a number of companies are able to produce the vaccines under a licence,” Singh said, noting that this was done earlier in the case of medicines for HIV/AIDS and that Israel had done so for Covid-19.
Singh also suggested allowing the import of any vaccine that has been cleared for use by “credible authorities such as the European Medical Agency or the USFDA” without insisting on domestic bridging trials.
The relaxation could be for a limited period during which the bridging trials could be completed in India, the former Prime Minister said. In the meantime, people taking these vaccines should be informed that these were being used based on approvals abroad.
“Many parents have not seen their children, living in different cities, in over a year. Grandparents have not seen their grandchildren. Many have lost their source of livelihood, and several millions have been pushed back into poverty. With the second surge that we are currently witnessing, people are beginning to wonder when their lives will get back to normal,” Singh wrote.
“There are many things we must do to fight the epidemic but a big part of this effort must be ramping up the vaccination programme.”
The former Prime Minister argued in favour of allowing the states the flexibility to decide on the categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are under 45.
“We must resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated. Currently, India has vaccinated only a small fraction of its population. I am certain that with the right policy design, we can do much better and very quickly. I hope the government will accept these suggestions immediately and act on them promptly,” Singh wrote.
The senior leader underlined that he was giving suggestions “in a spirit of constructive cooperation in which I have always believed and acted upon”.
The Modi government, which is given to treating Opposition suggestions with disdain and even mocking them, will find itself in a spot over Singh’s call to make public the vaccine orders it has placed for delivery in the next six months.
The government has been caught napping with the country already facing a shortage of vaccines, as the domestic production is half of what is needed at present. The government decided to allow vaccines made abroad to be imported only this month, after Rahul Gandhi had made the demand. But with the US and Europe placing advance orders, the companies will find it difficult to serve India soon.
Congress leader P. Chidambaram tweeted: “Manmohan Singh has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi containing five specific suggestions to fight the pandemic. He has requested the PM to accept them immediately and act on them promptly. Whether the Government is open to good suggestions will be known from the action taken on the letter. Also, whether the Government is serious about containing the spread of the pandemic will also be known from its response.”