Veteran Congress leader and former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the COVID-19 crisis.
While stressing on the need to ramp up the vaccination process, Sigh stated that one must not look at absolute numbers but the total percentage of population vaccinated.
“The key to our fight against COVID-19 must be ramping up the vaccination effort. We must resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated,” he said in his letter.
Noting that India currently has vaccinated only a small fraction of its population, Singh said he is certain that with the right policy design, “we can do much better and very quickly”.
The suggestions come a day after the Congress Working Committee met and discussed the efforts required to fight the COVID pandemic.
1) The government should publicise what are the orders for doses placed on different vaccine producers and accepted for delivery over the next six months. Singh wrote that if people want to vaccinate a target number in this period, they should place enough orders in advance so that producers can stick to an agreed schedule of supply.
2) The government should specify how this expected supply will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula. The central government could hold 10 per cent for distribution on emergency needs, but other than that, states should have a clear signal of availability so that they can plan their roll out.
3) States should get some variability to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years of age such as states may want to designate school teachers, bus, three-wheeler and taxi drivers, municipal and panchayat staff and lawyers who have to attend Courts as frontline workers. Singh suggested that they can be vaccinated even if they are below 45.
4) Over the past few decades, India has emerged as the largest vaccine producer in the world. At this moment of a public health emergency, the Government of India must actively support vaccine producers to expand their manufacturing facilities quickly by providing funds and other concessions. Additionally, Singh believes that this is the time to request the compulsory licensing provisions in the law so that a number of companies are able to produce the vaccines under a licence. He recalled that this had happened earlier in the case of medicines to deal with the HIV/AIDS disease. As far as COVID-19 is concerned, Singh has read that Israel has already requested the compulsory licensing provision and there is an overwhelming case for India to do so as well quickly.
5) As domestic supplies are limited, any vaccine that has been cleared for use by credible authorities such as the European Medical Agency or the USFDA, should be allowed to be imported without insisting on domestic bridging trials. People are facing an unparalleled emergency and experts are of the view that this relaxation is justified in an emergency. The relaxation could be for a limited period during which the bridging trials could be completed in India. All consumers of such vaccines could be cautioned that these vaccines are being allowed for use based on the approval granted by the relevant authority abroad.
“I hope the government will accept these suggestions immediately and act on them promptly,” Dr Singh concluded.