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COVAX: Be the voice that matters and not noise

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The second wave of the pandemic has bought India on her knees as the pandemic razes through the country bringing in death and devastation, we are witnessing one of the gravest problems of 21st century engulfing our nations. I wonder if this has been a humbling experience to entire nation or is it going to be another business as usual for us (Imp note: I am not using words like state government, central govt, officials, religious events/figures etc.., I am using word US and WE because the ONUS is on US as a nation to wake up and realize).

I have sequenced this article in three sections 1) Myths to be burst 2) Facts to digest 3) Way forward. It is important to read it in that sequence as if we don’t burst the Myths that everyone of us believe in, we will never accept the facts and continue to live in denial and never move forward.

Myths to be burst

India has unlimited resources and we are in a rich state: This is an important myth that needs to be burst, many of us have psychologically assumed that India, as a country has access to unlimited wealth (Akshaya Patra) and somehow the corrupt and rich have kept it away from poor through devious means. While some of it might be true but the fact remains the percentage of corrupt and rich across the world is no different from India. Over the years output from India has been limited. Our overall capabilities in wealth creation barring service industry have been limited over the past few decades. Any attempts at wealth creation have been dealt with severe mistrust and agitations over the years.

Covid is the only priority:  Handling of Covid should and must remain the top priority but it should not blind-side us. We should not live under the assumption that rest of the aspects of life like business, daily needs and development can come to standstill. These aspects   need to move on side by side along with Covid handling, lack of opportunities and Joblessness can cause anarchy and that is a rabbit hole we cannot dig for ourselves. Also remember Covid has not deterred our enemies prime example been the last year Chinese aggression and even right now the conflict in middle east proves that the world will continue in its own way and there will be no philosophical outcome of Covid for humanity (Indians have tendency to search for these outcomes) .

Population growth is a huge plus: Agreed, a decade and half ago working young population was a huge plus for the country. But it has reached a tipping point where this population growth is no longer sustainable for the country with the geographical size of India. Potential reverse Globalization (due to Covid) and increased automation means future job market is going continue to shrink. And we should collectively consider population control measures to sustain in the new world. 

Facts to digest

No one Predicated such a huge surge in second wave: Let us be honest and sincere about accepting the fact that no one predicted such a huge jump in cases in second wave. In fact, some surveys were hinting at large sections of population developing anti bodies for Corona, data in hand and even mathematical models were predicting a peak of 1 or 1.5L per day and not this monster surge. All of us were certainly caught off guard and this is nothing to be ashamed of and there no point in indulging in a slug fest over it. There is no point in spending energy in debating whether elections in one part of country caused surge in another part or point that protests with huge gathering in December and January didn’t have any such surge, remember US elections were conducted at the peak of Covid pandemic without even access to vaccine. Basic human behavior is always to start and move towards normalcy, human race has never been dictated by fear but by survival instinct and this behavior is exhibited even today at the peak of pandemic. It is but natural for every leader to push towards new normal way of life rather than create fear and panic. If we don’t accept this fact, we will continue to go in circles of blaming each other.          

Vaccine hesitancy:  Vaccination or lack of it has been blamed for the current situation and numerous questions being raised over the lack of planning or pre ordering of vaccines by the governments. While some of it is genuine and deserving, it is also important to note that the initial hesitancy of people to take the vaccine and lukewarm response from people on the ground towards vaccination. There were genuine concerns on part of government in going all out and investing in one vaccine (read myth 1). Vaccine Efficacy results coupled with the blood clot reports from Europe did put doubts in minds of decision makers. It is one thing to handle a pandemic and completely different thing to handle a man-made disaster. What If vaccine created side effects?  No one in his right mind will be willing to take that risk. Hence blaming decision makers on vaccine policy is not entirely correct. Also, age profile of the second wave infections and deaths should provide some insights into how much this hesitancy costed us   

Vaccine Diplomacy: Export of vaccine to other countries is not just a largesse from Indian government but it is also a legal requirement that SII had with AstraZenca and it is an important fact to consider as no country/company can violate legal and IP related requirements (read more on COVAX).   

Be wary of Seasonal Experts:  One of the challenges all of us face in this modern era of over communication is the flurry of “seasonal experts”, these are people who want to be on TV or newspaper article and are willing to cater to the mood of the season. They either predict something to increase the mood (in this case fear) or criticize something as everyone wants to hear that line of thought. It satiates our ego to indulge these experts as it goes with our mood even though it is not based on facts; it is imperative that we move away from these “seasonal experts” and start believing in opinions based on data on the ground and focus on bringing the real analytical and research experts to the fore rather than publicity seeking one (I predict economic experts coming in next season after second wave) 

Way Forward

Vaccine policy: One of the biggest blunders that the current dispensation made is announcements of free vaccination, there might be a political dividend to be reaped out of this but it will spell disaster in long term. This will stretch the state’s budget more towards temporary relief measures rather than on future investment of disease study which is critical. It is equally imperative on part of people to stop expecting these freebies from government. There is bigger cost we as a nation have been paying by accepting these freebies. If we have to learn anything from this Covid experience it is that temporary relief measures are always temporary and they satiate the temporary needs while bring in more pain long term

Research and Development: Healthcare infra needs drastic improvements in India but no infrastructure can handle pandemics.  Covid is fourth such virus related disease that has impacted the world in last decade others being SARS,Ebola and Nipah. It will be naïve on our part to think that ending covid will solve all future problem, we should anticipate more such new virulent diseases impacting us in the coming years. And this is where as a country we need to focus more on disease study and invest in R&D by collaborating with private Indian Pharma companies. We should make our investments in collecting more data and building technology and research that can help us to rapidly respond and handle such pandemics from spreading fast in future, early detection and local containments are future solutions.

Be the Voice that matters and not Noise:  India is a thriving democracy with limitless and never-ending debates, this is a great virtue and we must never lose this virtue irrespective of our ideological differences. However irrespective of our ideological differences we should never lose sight of Indian interest, we as a thriving democratic nation and we need to be “Voice that matters” and not just noise that everyone ignores. COVAX was a Global initiative that India was part of and it was an important initiative for all developing nations to fight together against the western leaders and its media hypocrisy. The west which thrived on the burning bodies in crematorium has absolutely no answers to sharing of vaccines IP even in such devastating times for the world, profit making continues to be primary objective. It is this context our experts and media house completely failed us instead of becoming the voice and pushing the COVAX agenda we just became noise that continues to fall and focus on our internal fault lines.

It is high time now we take up COVAX and start pushing the west to share the vaccine making IP to rest of the world. Finally, wellness initiative through Yoga and nutritious eating are the key to future well-being of human race and we need inculcate this in our future generations

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