Four countries share half the burden of the coronavirus pandemic. Together they account for nearly 37 million cases out of the global total of 74 million. And these four account for more than 40% of the deaths due to Covid-19. The four countries are the US, India, Brazil and Russia. Together, they present glaring examples of what can go wrong when assumptions drive policies — not science or data.
It’s too late for the blame game. The damage is done and this is repair time. The US is repairing fast by approving two vaccines that reported great results. They approved Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine last week. The signals emanating from the administration indicate that Moderna’s mRNA vaccine will be approved this week itself. Inoculations are expected to start next week. Britain, another bad example, is busy inoculating people with Pfizer’s vaccine. The British political machinery is busy wiping off the memories of the disastrous summer, hoping that the winter scores will be the one that people will remember. After all, everyone has short memories for their own benefit.
The entire Europe will probably start vaccinating by January 2021 as a decision will be taken on the 29th of this month. The vaccine is probably the best Christmas gift the region can ask for now.
Russia has done some damage limitation by mass rollout of its own Sputnik V vaccine, an Adeno vector one, but the Russian medical fraternity is not expressing faith in the local triumph. They are seriously suspecting poor efficacy and many doctors have openly stated that they will not take the Russian vaccine. Strong man Putin was a pale shadow of himself throughout the pandemic crisis. Even the best of data manipulation failed to prop up his sagging image.
Brazil had a history of excellence with vaccination. All of that will go down the drain if the Covid vaccine response is any indication. The country is testing China’s Sinovac and already the politics of it seems messy. President Jair Bolsonaro, who is not very keen on the Chinese vaccine, prefers the Oxford vaccine. He is also not very keen to vaccinate his country. The country has not made any major plan to procure enough doses and there is nothing but uncertainty in a country that had witnessed 183,000 deaths. Political games are the worst you can give your people during a nasty pandemic.
India too is not doing great. The citizens were promised a vaccine will come on August 15. Then they were told that this would happen in another two months. The D-Day was postponed to December and now to the yearend. It remains to be seen when the people will get access to a vaccine. Indians are not waiting for an mRNA vaccine that is beyond their shallow pockets. The government may go in for the Oxford vaccine or the mysterious Sputnik V. Novavax is also in the game and we may get a decent load from them if the phase III trial ends well. There is hardly any reason for one to be hopeful about the vaccine from Bharath Biotech, given the current scenario.
And the elite can wait for the Pfizer jab at a premium and get its 95% efficacy. This may happen very soon as the country is under tremendous pressure to approve at least one of the vaccines by the yearend to save its face.
Why is India in such a sorry state, given the excellent infrastructure in the country for vaccine manufacturing? What could have been better for the country in the fight against Covid? There is enough to point at and much to debate. All one can do right now is to hope for a vaccine by January and expect the needy to get a shot in time, free of cost and complications.
India will cross the 10 million Covid-19 infections mark by the end of this week. Right now, India has 145,000 (reported) deaths. Given the low testing and the erratic reporting of deaths in the country, the real number is anyone’s guess. One can only hope against hope that the number of infections remain under control even after the huge election melas like the ones happened in Bihar recently.
(Dr Manu Raj is a paediatrician, clinical researcher and research methodologist based in Kochi.)