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Was COVID-19 vaccines export also an 'oversight', asks Rahul Gandhi in letter to PM Modi requesting shots for 'everyone who needs it'

Congress leader proposes moratorium on vaccine exports, ‘fast tracking’ approval of other jabs and giving states a greater say in procurement and distribution

April 09, 2021 / 02:48 PM IST
Rahul Gandhi (file photo)

Rahul Gandhi (file photo)

The war of attrition between the Central government and opposition-ruled states over availability of anti-pandemic vaccines is all set to snowball.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi questioning the Centre's decision to export COVID-19 vaccines.

The three-page letter calls for vaccine shots for "everyone who needs it" and demands an immediate halt on vaccine exports, while urging the Centre to fast-track other vaccine candidates.

The letter alleges that efforts of the scientific community and vaccine makers had been undermined by the "Centre's poor implementation and oversight.”

"Was the export of vaccines also an oversight, like many other decisions of this government, or an effort to garner publicity at the cost of our own citizens," Gandhi asked referring to the much talked about word ‘oversight’ used by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on April 1, while announcing the government’s withdrawal of the cut in small saving rates.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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The acerbic letter comes close on the heels of a record surge in COVID-19 infections across the country and a fierce row between the Centre and some states over vaccine supply.

Read | Centre discriminating against Maharashtra by allotting fewer doses: Rajesh Tope

With more than six crore doses of vaccines exported, India, the former Congress president says in the letter, was facing what he calls "vaccine starvation".

"There is no clear reason as to why the government permitted large-scale exports of vaccines. While our nation is facing vaccine starvation, more than 6 crore vaccines have been exported,” the letter said.

Also read | Over 125 vaccination centres shut in Maharashtra over vaccine shortage.

The letter also mentions that many state governments have repeatedly highlighted vaccine shortages “only to receive intemperate statements by Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan targeting opposition-ruled states,” Gandhi said.

On April 8, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope alleged “discrimination” from the Centre, saying fewer vaccines were allotted to Maharashtra despite a high number of cases in the state.

In response to Tope’s accusation, Vardhan lashed out at Maharashtra and other states, accusing them of trying to cover their "failures" by making "irresponsible" statements and spreading panic among people.

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Historically, the letter says, India has achieved abundant experience in designing and executing some of the world's biggest vaccination programmes.

“Yet in the present case, we have managed to fully vaccinate less than 1 per cent of the population in three months. Countries with sizable populations have managed to vaccinate relatively many more people,” it said.

Towards the end, Gandhi makes seven suggestions including placing an ‘immediate moratorium’ on vaccine exports, ‘fast tracking’ approval of other vaccines, giving states a greater say in vaccine procurement and distribution and ‘opening up’ vaccination for all.

Check here for the latest updates on all COVID-19 vaccines

In a review meeting with Chief Ministers, Prime Minister Modi on April 8 asked states to immediately focus on aggressive testing and micro-containment to break the chain of transmission of the second COVID-19 wave. The PM emphasised that vaccination was a long-term and continuous strategy in the fight against the virus.

For the third consecutive day, India witnessed the highest single-day spike of new COVID-19 cases after reporting over 1.31 lakh cases in the last 24 hours.
Gulam Jeelani is a journalist with over 11 years of reporting experience. Based in New Delhi, he covers politics and governance for Moneycontrol.

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