By Sushil Silvano, Special Correspondent, Mumbai Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: About one score plus First Information Reports were registered by Delhi Police since and 17 persons arrested for pasting posters on Delhi walls, asking. the innocuous question: Why did you, Modiji, send out our vaccines to other countries?
The arrests in Delhi provoked the Congress to such an extent that both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi challenged the Government to arrest them too, threatening to make the offending poster more viral. Mohua Moitra of Trinamool Congress too criticised the Delhi Police. Yashwant Sinha, former Union Finance Minister in Vajpayee Government, has now joined this exalted list.
Almost 95 countries received 6.6 crore vaccine vials from India in what came to be known as Vaccine Maitri. Launched on January 20 with great fanfare , diplomacy via vaccines continued till mid-March .
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Vaccine Maitri’s ambitious programme to export the two Indian-made shots – Covishield and Covaxin – to the world started on a day when India counted 14,112 fresh cases of Covid-19. Although much lower than the first wave’s daily peak of 93,198 cases, registered on 16 September 2020, it was still a fairly high one-day count.
Since then, according to data published by the Ministry of External Affairs, nearly 6.6 crore doses of Made-in-India vaccines have reached a total of 95 foreign entities under the banner of the Vaccine Maitri initiative. Out of these, the Modi government has donated nearly 1.06 crore doses as free-of-charge grants to various low-income countries in the global south. Others have been shipped as part of commercial deals and the United Nation’s COVAX facility and GAVI alliance.
Yashwant Sinha recently tweeted a video clip of a speech by the Indian representative at a discussion in the United Nations to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi over what has come to be known as the government’s “vaccine diplomacy” or Vaccine Maitri.
The clip was taken from a tweet on the UNGA informal meeting held in March from the handle “India at UN, NY”. India was attending the meet as one of the initiators of the Political Declaration on Equitable Global Access to COVID-19 vaccines.
In the clip, Indian representative Nagaraj Naidu — India’s Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN — is seen speaking about the country’s contribution in the area. After the scientific community came up with the vaccines, “we are now confronted with ensuring the availability, accessibility, affordability and distribution of the Covid 19 vaccines,” he said.
Underscoring the need for equality in accessibility of the vaccine, he said if this was not done, it would hit poorer nations hard.
“India will not only be vaccinating 300 million of its own frontline workers over the next six months, but in the process, has also supplied vaccines to over 70 nations. In fact, as of today, we have supplied more vaccines globally than have supplied our own people,” he said.
These 6.6 crore doses of vaccines to 95 countries as a goodwill gesture , were enough to vaccinate all people in Mumbai and Delhi, the worst affected States.
Vaccine Maitri was criticised at its launch and is virulently being critised now not just by Indians, men, women and children but also Internationally. The worst and most hard hitting criticism has come from World Health Organisation Chief.
The WHO chief took on so-called “vaccine diplomacy” on May 10 slamming countries for using Covid-19 jabs to gain “competitive advantage rather than engaging in true cooperation” to end the pandemic.
“Vaccine diplomacy is not cooperation,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told AFP from the World Health Organization’s headquarters in Geneva.
UN health agency chief’s was responding to a question about allegations that countries such as Russia and China, which have donated large quantities of their home-grown Covid vaccines to nations desperate for the jabs, were doing so in exchange for market access and influence.Tedros decried “geopolitical manoeuvring” at a time when only “clear and clean cooperation… can help”.
“We cannot defeat this pandemic through competition,” he said.
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“If you compete for resources, or if you compete for geopolitical advantages, then the virus gets advantage.”
The pandemic has killed close to 3.3 million people since the new coronavirus first emerged in late 2019, upending normal life and causing global economic havoc.
Tedros said the world was now seeing the number of new Covid cases levelling off, but stressed “it is an unacceptably high plateau”.
He pointed out that there were more than 5.4 million new cases and nearly 90,000 deaths reported globally last week alone, with numbers still soaring in India especially.
And while rapid vaccination programmes have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps towards normality, the virus is still surging in many countries and concerns are growing about global vaccine inequality.
Tedros noted “low- and lower-middle-income countries account for 47 percent of the world’s population, but have received just 17 percent of the world’s vaccines.”Redressing this global imbalance is an essential part of the solution,” he said.
But he insisted that even countries with broad vaccine access and seemingly declining outbreaks needed to remain vigilant.
“We have been here before. Over the past year, many countries have experienced a declining trend in cases and deaths, have relaxed public health and social measures too quickly, and individuals have let down their guard, only for those hard-won gains to be lost,” he said.
Charity begins at home. This lesson seems to be lost on India’s rulers. Will they see reason now and evolve an all- encompassing vaccine strategy to offset the onset of a Third Covid Tidal Wave predicted recently by the Chief Scientific Adviser K.VijayRaghavan?
Indians can only helplessly Wait, Watch and Pray.