Manmohan Singh calls for ramping up vaccination in 5-point letter to PM

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”
With the second wave of Covid-19 rampaging across India, former prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh in an open letter to PM Narendra Modi has strongly advocated ramping up vaccine supply by providing funds and concessions to the private sector and adopting a more transparent and flexible policy in distribution of vaccines to states.

Singh in his five-point prescription also advocated compulsory licensing provisions for vaccines as in the case of HIV/AIDS drugs, so that more companies can produce vaccines under a licence.

“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. This, I recall, had happened earlier in the case of medicines to deal with HIV/AIDS,” he said.     

Singh said since domestic vaccine supply is limited, any vaccine that has been cleared for use by credible authorities, such as the European Medicines Agency or the US Food and Drug Administration, 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,” he said.

The veteran Congress leader said one must not look at absolute numbers but the total percentage of the population that has been 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 former PM also suggested that states should be given some flexibility to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years.

Currently, people above 45 years of age are eligible for vaccination.

He said some 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, and they can then be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years.

Singh also said that the Centre should publicise what are firm orders for doses placed on different vaccine producers and accepted for delivery over the next six months.

That apart, the government should also indicate how this expected supply will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula, Singh said in his letter.

Sources said Manmohan Singh’s suggestions come a day after the Congress Working Committee met and discussed the efforts required to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

“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 noted.  

He suggested that the central government could retain 10 per cent for distribution based on emergency needs, and states should have a clear signal of likely availability, so that they can plan their roll-out.      

Citing Israel’s example, which has already invoked the compulsory licensing provision, he said there is an overwhelming case for India to do so as well quickly.     

Concluding his letter, Singh said he is forwarding his suggestions for consideration in a spirit of constructive cooperation in which he has always believed and acted upon.     

“I hope the government will accept these suggestions immediately and act on them promptly,” he said.    

Singh recalled how over the year, the world and India have been grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, with many parents not seeing their children in over a year.     

Many have lost their source of livelihood, and several millions have been pushed back into poverty, he said, noting that with the second surge being currently witnessed, “people are beginning to wonder when their lives will get back to normal”.     

India has seen a massive surge of Covid-19 cases, with over 200,000 cases being reported every day in the past four days.     

Senior Congress Leader P Chidambaram and Mammohan Singh’s former Cabinet colleague have expressed the hope that the government will adhere to the suggestions.      

“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,” he said.

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