Health Secretary Contradicts PM Modi's Remarks On Vaccine For All Citizens
PM Modi has on two separate occasions said that every citizen in India will receive the COVID-19 vaccine
Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan's recent statement that the government never spoke of vaccinating the entire country contradicts earlier remarks by Prime Minister Narendra Modi - who on two separate occasions said that a COVID-19 vaccine will be given to every Indian.
In a press briefing for COVID-19 on Tuesday, Bhushan claimed that the government never spoke about vaccinating the whole country.
Although it is scientifically sound to say that not everyone requires vaccination; Bhushan's statement about universal vaccination never being spoken about is not true.The health secretary was responding to the question how long will it take to vaccinate the entire country?
News wire agency ANI reported Bhushan's remarks on Wednesday. In the replies to ANI's tweet several Twitter users asked why was this not clarified earlier.
What PM Modi Said About Universal Vaccination:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has on two separate occasions said that the government is ensuring that every citizen will receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
On October 20, 2020 in a televised address, Modi emphasised that as soon as any vaccine is available for use in the country, the government will work to ensure that the vaccines reach every citizen. He further assured that each and every citizen will be able to access the vaccine.
"India is working on several vaccines currently, some of which are in advanced stages. Friends, whenever the vaccine will be available, the government is preparing to ensure that every citizen can access the vaccine as soon as possible. Work is underway to ensure that each and every citizen can access the vaccine." - Prime Minister Narendra Modi
(Bharat mai abhi corona ki kai vaccine par kaam chal raha hai. In me kuch advanced stage par hai. Saathiyo, corona ki vaccine jab bhi aayegi, woh jald se jald pratyek Bhartiya tak kaise pahunche, iske liye bhi sarkar ki taiyari jaari rahegi, ek ek nagrik tak vaccine pahunche iske liye teji se kaam ho raha hai.)
(Watch the video below)
While in the video, Modi talks about access, but in an interview with the Economic Times published on October 29, he mentions vaccinating the entire country. When asked about the plan for vaccination, Modi mentioned that 'none will be left behind'.
"First and foremost, I would like to assure the nation that, as and when a vaccine becomes available, everyone will be vaccinated. None will be left behind." - Prime Minister Narendra Modi
He also added that it will be according to the priority groups planned by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration headed by Dr. VK Paul but reassured that every citizen will get the vaccine.
Bihar Poll Promise
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, as a representative of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, on October 22, announced free COVID-19 vaccines for every citizen in Bihar while releasing the party's election manifesto.
"As soon as a COVID-19 vaccine is available for production at a mass scale, every person in Bihar will get free vaccination. This is the first promise mentioned in our poll manifesto."
Also Read:BJP Promises Free COVID-19 Vaccine In Poll-Bound Bihar: What We Know
The BJP was criticized for using COVID-19 vaccines as an election agenda. Amit Malviya, the BJP's IT Cell Head had even tweeted defended the move by stating that health is a state subject
Following this announcement, several other ministers from Tamil Nadu, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, and Puducherry also announced that they would be providing COVID-19 vaccines for free to all their citizens.
Why Everyone Need Not Be Vaccinated:
In spite of the backlash, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan is correct in stating that the vaccine need not be given to everyone.
Dr. Balram Bhargava, Director General ICMR, who was present at the press conference explained the rationale behind the thinking. "Our purpose is to break the chain of virus transmission. If we are able to vaccinate a critical mass of population and break the chain of transmission, then we may not have to vaccinate the entire population," Bhargava reasoned.
This phenomenon is called herd immunity. While the Johns Hopkins University has estimated that if 70 per cent of the population develops natural antibodies or gets vaccinated, the spread of the virus can be stopped, the World Health Organisation is more optimistic. Chief Scientist Dr. Sowmya Swaminathan has mentioned that according to the WHO, a 50 per cent immunity level will halter the spread of the disease.
Along with herd immunity, it is also important to understand that even though the vaccine is meant for healthy individuals, there are not enough doses so far to administer it to every citizen in the world. Most of these vaccines require double dosages. Most leading vaccine manufacturers have pledged to produce over 200-400 million doses till the end of 2021. Several such as Serum Institute of India are also a part of the WHO's COVAX- Act Accelerator that aims to distribute the vaccine equitably among low- and middle-income countries.
Several high-income countries such as US, UK, Canada have already purchased doses more than their population but they will not receive them at one go.
Age, health, area which a person resides in will also play a key role when the government chalks a plan for vaccine distribution after it has vaccinated the 30 million people it intends to vaccinate in the first phase. The elderly and people living with comorbidities will be prioritised to receive the vaccine. Containment zones, Sero-surveys to understand the spread of the disease will further help in determining who will receive the vaccine.
(Note: The story has been updated to include the video with the question the health secretary was responding to)
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