New Delhi: A day after former prime minister Manmohan Singh wrote to PM Narendra Modi to ramp up vaccination efforts, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan Monday said it was “saddening” that senior Congress leaders “do not seem to share” Singh’s view and have, instead, contributed to vaccine hesitancy.
“It is saddening, Dr Singh, that while you very well understand the importance of vaccinations as an important method of fighting the Covid-19 battle, people in responsible positions in your party as well as the state governments formed by your party do not seem to share your view,” Vardhan said.
Manmohan Singh had written to Modi Sunday suggesting ways to fight Covid pandemic. In his letter, the former prime minister said one must not look at absolute numbers but the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated.
To this, Vardhan said, “Your advice to not get tempted to go by absolute numbers, but to go by percentage of population covered, is not incorrect,” adding that the advice should be followed by leaders of the Congress party too.
“Quite obviously, it cannot be that the discussion on total cases, active cases, or mortality is based on absolute numbers, which the Congress party often tries to do, but the vaccination numbers continue to be touted as a percentage of the population covered,” Vardhan wrote.
The letter goes on to say that it was “shocking” that senior members of the Congress, including “a sitting Chief Minister”, didn’t acknowledge the efforts of scientists and vaccine manufacturers, and instead, “have taken extraordinary interest in spreading falsehoods about the efficacy of these vaccines, thereby fuelling vaccine hesitancy”.
Vardhan also said members of the Congress had “shamed” the vaccines publicly, “but took their doses in private, quietly”.
These “irresponsible public pronouncements”, Vardhan said, led to “a below national average vaccination coverage of senior citizens and even front line workers in some Congress-ruled states. Please do note that these very same states that have also become the big contributors in the second wave of Covid-19 infection”.
Vardhan also said the Modi government would take Singh’s suggestions at “face value,” despite the “negativity that your party spreads”.
“However, it does seem that those who drafted your letter or advised you have done a great disservice to your standing by misleading you regarding material already in the public domain,” said Vardhan, who claimed there were “factual inaccuracies” in Singh’s letter.
The health minister also said action had already been taken on two of Singh’s suggestions: Allowing the import of foreign vaccines with USFDA/European Medical Agency approval without a bridging trial, and providing concessions for the manufacture of vaccines.
“We request your continued cooperation in the battle against the pandemic and welcome more such illuminating suggestions. However, as a senior leader, we expect that you shall offer the same advice and wisdom to your own party leaders as well,” reads the letter.
Singh’s 5-point prescription
In his letter to PM Modi, Singh had said there were many things that could be done to fight the pandemic, “but a big part of this effort must be ramping up the vaccination programme”.
In his five-point guide, the former PM said the central government should publicise the vaccine orders for the next six months, and place enough orders in advance that producers could adhere to. He also suggested the government indicate how the vaccines will be supplied to states “based on a transparent formula”.
Singh also suggested that more manufacturers be given licences to produce vaccines and meet domestic demand, and that foreign-made vaccines with requisite approvals be imported immediately, without having to undergo bridging trials.