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Free vaccine for vote: 'Misleading' Modi talk ahead of Gujarat, Himachal polls

By Rosamma Thomas* 

Over a year ago, in October 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that his government had achieved the milestone of 100 crore vaccination doses, and the vaccination campaign against Covid-19 was free. Speaking at an election rally in Himachal Pradesh, BJP president JP Nadda called on voters to thank PM Modi for the vaccines by voting the party back to power in the state.
Earlier, the prime minister had instructed the BJP to set up helpdesks at vaccination centres. The Cowin website of the government that tracks vaccination doses administered lists over 219 crore doses as of November 6, 2022.
While the government takes pride in its vaccination achievement, it is worth recalling that the Supreme Court had intervened last year to question the initially proposed pricing policy for the vaccination campaign, forcing the government to change its stance. Also in Union Budget 2021, Rs35,000 crore was allocated for vaccination.
Transparency in governance campaigner Commodore Lokesh Batra, in a Right to Information petition in December 2021, sought details of the total amount paid to vaccine manufacturers. Government of India enterprise HLL Lifecare Limited, in its response of January 25, 2022, showed that a total of Rs 26,936 had been paid to vaccine manufacturers until then.
“How can the government claim that it has conducted a successful and free vaccination campaign when this is taxpayers’ money?” wondered Commodore Batra. Besides, private operators had been providing vaccine on payment.
In India’s private hospitals, the cost of the vaccination doses was also the highest in the world. In response to an RTI petition from Commodore Batra, the government also admitted that it had no record of the number of doses administered in private hospitals.
There were also reports that orders for vaccination doses were not placed with manufacturers in time, stalling the process. “Poor planning, piecemeal procuring and unregulated pricing,” BBC reported, had caused India’s vaccination drive to stumble.
What is astounding is that while the government had planned for dealing with those who might be hesitant to get the vaccine, there was no plan in place for reporting of adverse reactions after receiving the vaccination. In May 2022, Supreme Court intervened to direct the government to set up a system for online reporting of adverse events.
How can the government claim it has conducted successful and free vaccination campaign when this is taxpayers’ money?
By November 2022, news website Scroll reported that over 1,000 deaths were reported after vaccination in India. There is also cause to suspect that the number of adverse events and deaths is grossly underestimated – while Kerala reported 490 adverse events and 242 deaths, Uttar Pradesh, which has administered six times more doses of the vaccine, showed only 159 adverse events and 85 deaths.
In April 2022, Denmark became the first country in the world to halt its Covid-19 vaccination programme. Calls for an immediate halt to vaccination were earlier made in India too, where activists noted that the vaccine was causing more harm than the virus.
Vaccines were being administered to pregnant women too, although a Right to Information application seeking the results of such tests showed that the government had not conducted any trials on pregnant women. There was no scientific evidence that the vaccines were safe for pregnant women, and no information at all on how the fetus might be impacted.
Across the world, as the data emerges on the Covid vaccination drive, questions are being raised about the need for a vaccine at all – given that the threat from the virus was initially grossly exaggerated, through computer modeling procedures that were off the mark by leagues. Early warnings were suppressed or ignored in many countries.
Ordinary Indians, however, are waking to the problems with the vaccine. The demand for vaccination has nosedived and stocks are being allowed to expire. So is Prime Minister Modi singing the wrong tune ahead of polling in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh?
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*Freelance journalist. Click here for RTI response

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