Manmohan Singh Writes To Narendra Modi; Gives Five Suggestions To Fight Covid Pandemic
File image of Manmohan Singh, attending a news conference in New Delhi. (Photographer: Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg)

Manmohan Singh Writes To Narendra Modi; Gives Five Suggestions To Fight Covid Pandemic

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the coronavirus pandemic, stressing that ramping up vaccination was the key to fighting the second wave.

"We must resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated," Singh said in his letter.

India has so far administered 12 crore vaccine doses, enough to cover about 4.5% of the population, according to Bloomberg's vaccine tracker. With the right policy design, India can do "much better and very quickly", wrote Singh.

Here are the five suggestions the veteran Congress leader made to Modi:

  1. Centre should publicise vaccine dose orders placed and accepted for delivery over the next six months.

  2. Government should indicate how vaccine supplies are to be distributed to states based on a transparent formula.

  3. Give states flexibility to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated.

  4. Government must proactively support vaccine producers to expand manufacturing facilities. Centre should also invoke compulsory licensing provisions to allow more companies to produce vaccines.

  5. Allow the import of vaccines approved by credible foreign regulators, without insisting on domestic bridging trials.

Singh's letter to Modi comes at a time when India is reeling under the second wave of Covid-19, with the nation reporting over 2 lakh new cases for four straight days. The daily death toll crossed 1,500 on Sunday, even as state governments ramp up restrictions amid shortage of hospital beds, critical drugs and oxygen supplies.

Also read: India Has a Double Mutant Virus Variant. Should We Worry?

Edited excerpts from Singh's letter to Modi.

First, the government should publicise what are 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.

Second, the government should indicate how this expected supply will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula. The central government could retain 10% 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 rollout.

Third, 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.

Fourth, over the past few decades, India has emerged as the largest vaccine producer in the world, thanks to policies adopted by the government and robust intellectual property protection. 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. In addition, 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 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.

Fifth, since domestic supplies are limited, any vaccine that has been cleared for use by credible authorities such as the European Medical Agency or the U.S. FDA, 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. All consumers of such vaccines could be duly cautioned that these vaccines are being allowed for use based on the approval granted by the relevant authority abroad.

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