Former premier Manmohan Singh has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, suggesting various measures to control the surge in COVID-19 numbers, primary amongst them being the need to ramp up the vaccination programme.
Singh said the letter, written as a follow-up to the Congress Working Committee meeting held on Saturday to discuss the COVID-19 situation, was in a spirit of constructive cooperation.
“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,” Singh said in the letter.
He said the government should publicise 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,” he said.
- Local administrations need to be proactive in fight against COVID-19: PM Modi
- Centre in firefighting mode amid criticism over shortage of vaccine, vital drugs
- Congress attacks Modi, Centre over 'colossal mismanagement' of fight against COVID-19
- Shortage of oxygen, ICU beds in Delhi, says Kejriwal as city reports 24,000 new COVID cases
He said the government should indicate how this expected supply will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula. The central government could retain ten percent for distribution based on emergency needs, but other than that, states should have a clear signal of likely availability so that they can plan their roll out, he said.
Reiterating the Congress stand on giving state governments more say in the roll-out of vaccines, he said states should be given some flexibility to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years of age.
“For example, states may want to designate school teachers, bus, three-wheeler and taxi drivers, municipal and panchayat staff, and possibly lawyers who have to attend Courts as frontline workers. They can then be vaccinated even if they are below 45,” he wrote.
Noting that India has over the past few decades emerged as the largest vaccine producer in the world, thanks to policies adopted by the government and robust intellectual property protection, he said the capacity is largely in the private sector. “At this moment of a public health emergency, the Government of India must proactively support vaccine producers to expand their manufacturing facilities quickly by providing funds and other concessions,” Singh said.
In addition, he said that 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.
“This, I recall, had happened earlier in the case of medicines to deal with the HIV/AIDS disease. As far as COVID-19 is concerned, I have read that Israel has already invoked the compulsory licensing provision and there is an overwhelming case for India to do so as well quickly,” he said.
The former premier suggested that since 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.
“We are facing an unprecedented emergency and, I understand, 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,” Singh said.
He also suggested that the government 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,” he said.