Bruised and blemished from a Covid-19 pandemic, India demonstrated immense fortitude and resilience to cruise steady on a trajectory of economic development amid an olio of epiphenomenal vagaries such as rising unemployment, family strife, exacerbating mental health problems, etc. It is nothing short of a marvel that the Covid graph that was peaking at unprecedented rates from May 2020 through September 2020, crested to lowly doddle in the succeeding months, the reasons for which are still a bit of an enigma cutting across the political spectrum and the scientific community. As the Covid positivity rate hovered close to 1%, a sense of complacency gleefully perched atop our jittery consciousness, rekindling hopes of a better future and a new year leavened with fresh promises. The Narendra Modi Government has been steadfast in dedicating a substantial proportion of government funding towards vaccine preparation and also constantly hammering home the importance of physical distancing, wearing masks, etc.
However, in the last few days, there has been a significant spike in Covid cases in States like Maharashtra, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Punjab. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray, has exhorted the denizens of Maharashtra to exercise utmost caution and has gone on to warn them of further lockdown if the situation spirals out of control. Many European countries are already in the throes of a second wave paralysing livelihoods and economy beyond measure. It would be incredibly naive on our part to turn a blind eye to the possibility of a second wave, menacingly lashing the shores of several other countries.
A large cross-section of scientists around the world are sweltering away trying to burrow through the variances to expediently zero in on the complicated nature of the virus, carrying out genetic sequencing of the variants and trying to pinpoint the modes and duration of mutation, albeit with relative success so far. The mRNA vaccine prepared by Pfizer has shown wonderful efficacy and is being administered to a larger number of people in Europe and North America and also being exported to countries where cold chain facilities are readily available. In India, Covaxin, prepared by Bharat Biotech, and Covishield, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, being bulk produced by the Serum Institute of India, are being supplied to various government hospitals and health centres to vaccinate doctors, healthcare workers and other frontline workers.
However, let us not delude ourselves into thinking that the spectre of Covid-19 is well behind us and we can now be nonchalant about it pretending everything is hunky-dory, when we subconsciously know about the dangers lurking right under the patina of normalcy. Countries like Israel, the UK and USA have already vaccinated a substantial number of people in their countries precluding the possibility of another major outbreak in the near future. Israel has become the first country to have vaccinated 85% of its population with the Pfizer-made vaccine. India is a long way off in terms of extending that protective enclave to its population in the form of vaccination and this warrants prompt and drastic action to make vaccines available to the vast majority of the population and not just the outcropping of the vulnerable few engaged in healthcare-related work. This overambitious, far-fetched dream could only be added a leavening of hope, when the government consciously decides to rope in the private players in the administration of vaccination. Private hospitals need to pitch in and provide succour in our endeavour to vaccinate the population actively involved in day-to-day activities, keeping the economic engine running. The concept of herd immunity is still a myth and it isn’t much of a leap to imagine another wave of the virus to scythe through and bludgeon our relative consciousness to a gnawing sense of apathy. Covaxin, manufactured by Bharat Biotech, will likely take three more weeks for efficacy data to emerge. Covishield, the AstraZeneca vaccine, holds ample promise in our fight against Covid-19.
With elections drawing near, large congregations are ubiquitous and the election frenzy overwhelming, enough to drown out any concern for the already existing pandemic, which has all the forebodings to turn cataclysmic. The Government should accord equal priority towards vaccination and involve the private sector, which will not only ease the burden on government exchequer but also expedite the vaccination process, a sine qua non to subverting another Covid quall. A strained exchequer, rising fuel prices, and diminishing job opportunities create a fertile ground for turmoil and social unrest. Private hospitals can do a wonderful job in vaccinating a huge number of people through the payment of a decent fee. Our fragile and tattered economy is somehow being propped up and put back on the rails. Any further turbulence won’t just hurt the economy but the entire working class will be completely done in by such malevolence of nature, recovery from such trauma being a rarity.