Former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to make public the orders for doses of coronavirus vaccine placed by the government and indicate how the vaccines will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula.
He also asked the Prime Minister to give some flexibility to states to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years of age.
Pointing out that domestic supplies are limited, Singh suggested that any vaccine that has been cleared for use by credible authorities such as the European Medical Agency or the USFDA, should be allowed to be imported without insisting on domestic bridging trials.
As India reels under the second wave of coronavirus, Singh said people are now beginning to wonder when their lives will get back to normal and argued “there are many things we must do to fight the epidemic but a big part of this effort must be ramping up the vaccination programme.”
“First, the government should publicise what are the firm orders for doses placed on different vaccine producers and accepted for delivery over the next six months. If we want to vaccinate a target number in this period, we should place enough orders in advance so that producers can adhere to an agreed schedule of supply,” he said.
Secondly, he said the government should indicate how this expected supply will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula.
“The central government could retain 10 per cent for distribution based on emergency needs, but other than that, states should have a clear signal of likely availability so that they can plan their roll out,” he said.
Arguing that states should be given some flexibility to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years of age, he said states, for instance, may want to designate school teachers, bus, three-wheeler and taxi drivers, municipal and panchayat staff, and possibly lawyers who have to attend Courts as frontline workers. “They can then be vaccinated even if they are below 45,” he said.
Singh also asked the Prime Minister to proactively support vaccine producers to expand their manufacturing facilities quickly by providing funds and other concessions.
“In addition, I believe this is the time to invoke the compulsory licensing provisions in the law, so that a number of companies are able to produce the vaccines under a licence. This, I recall, had happened earlier in the case of medicines to deal with the HIV/AIDS disease. As far as Covid-19 is concerned, I have read that Israel has already invoked the compulsory licensing provision and there is an overwhelming case for India to do so as well quickly,” he wrote.
Suggesting that any vaccine that has been cleared for use by credible authorities such as the European Medical Agency or the USFDA, should be allowed to be imported without insisting on domestic bridging trials, he said “we are facing an unprecedented emergency and, I understand, experts are of the view that this relaxation is justified in an emergency.”
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“The relaxation could be for a limited period during which the bridging trials could be completed in India. All consumers of such vaccines could be duly cautioned that these vaccines are being allowed for use based on the approval granted by the relevant authority abroad,” he said.
Pointing out that the key to the fight against Covid 19 must be ramping up the vaccination effort, he said, “we must resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated.”
“Currently, India has vaccinated only a small fraction of its population. I am certain that with the right policy design, we can do much better and very quickly. I hope the government will accept these suggestions immediately and act on them promptly,” he added.
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