"The Indian government has to answer to its people why despite its earlier success and boasts and, yes, with its huge vaccine manufacturing capacity, this tragedy is happening now."

“If there is an apocalypse, this has to be one,” is how Vikas Dandekar, a senior pharmaceutical and health care journalist writing for ET Prime (an India-based website for analytical and investigative business stories) described the terrifying situation in India, the world’s second most populous country. As the second, maybe even third, wave of COVID-19 surged across the land over the past few weeks, India has had record numbers of infections and deaths so devastating and heart-rending that even journalists used to covering global catastrophes had a hard time reporting at the scene.     

Indeed, the daily COVID-19 infections and deaths in India have seen record highs. It is possible that it will soon surpass the United States as the most infected country in the world. 

As of May 10, the US has recorded 33 million infections, ten million more than India. But with daily infections averaging three hundred fifty thousand it will just be a matter of time before India overtakes the US which has seen its infections take a dramatic decline as it ramps up its vaccination roll out. But it is in the number of Indian deaths on a daily basis which is likely to get even worse as the country’s health care system has now been overwhelmed and likely to crash, probably in a matter of weeks, if left unattended. 

Latest reports have it that daily deaths averaged 4,000, three times more than Brazil and six times than the United States, the second and third COVID-19 deadliest countries. Dandekar noted that the actual number of deaths could in fact be even higher given the sheer number of death pyres and the volume which have been compacted in crematoriums and burial grounds. 

To think that only some months back in the middle of 2020 while the world was reeling from the spread of Covid 19, India was being hailed for its early success in “flattening the curve.” It was not also lost to the WHO, national health agencies and other medical associations that India was home to a host of world class manufacturers such as Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer capable of turning out 1.5 billion doses a year using its existing facilities, Biological E, Dr. Reddy’s, Bharat Biotech and Indian Immunologicals Ltd., Hetero, and even the government-run Haffkine Institute. At least three of these manufacturers have been licensed by the likes of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca to manufacture their vaccines. In addition, a consortium led by Bharat Biotech completed the needed processes to manufacture their own vaccine meant to be made available to poor and middle income countries through the WHO/Gavi COVAX facility or even through friendly commercial contracts.

Unfortunately, that early success, the presence of huge vaccine manufacturing facilities and, yes, competent scientists and health workers may have added to the sense of complacency which apparently set in before anybody stepped in to say: Wake Up. It was as if everybody in India came around to suggest that the country could be spared the devastation of a possible second or even third wave. It did not help that the BJP led administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was neck deep campaigning for its candidates in the scheduled elections with all the extravaganza such events generate. As Dandekar noted, India’s earlier cautious and prudent approach in fighting COVID-19 which led to its early success was trumped by the ruling party’s hyper-nationalism. 

Said Dandekar in an article in STATREPORTS: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior leaders from his Bharatiya Janata Party, who thrive on overwhelming popularity, took no time to claim victory in the fight against the virus. Election rallies attracted soaring crowds. As Modi and Amit Shah, the two top leaders, brazenly took off their masks during their incessant campaigns, those in the crowds followed and dropped theirs.” 

Of course, Modi and his party won overwhelmingly but at the cost of millions infected, thousands of deaths and the crippling of the country’s health care system.  

To make matters worse, the surge caused in part by the massive campaign crowds throwing all 

the minimum health protocols to the winds got replicated many times over as Hindu pilgrims in 

the millions gathered for a dip in the Ganges River with the celebration of Kumbh Mela, a traditional annual ceremony. It was estimated that as many as 2.5 million people took part in the celebration  with scant attention to Covid-19 safety protocols. 

Adding to the tragic turn of events, we are now being told that even the much touted Indian vaccine manufacturing power and presumably the regime’s ability to vaccinate its people leading 

to a possible herd immunity has all been shattered. Early on, with its initial success in preventing the wild spread of COVID-19,  the Modi government and the manufacturers made a vow to ramp up their production to cover as many of the needed supplies for low and middle income countries. Together with China’s manufacturers, they were supposed to take the slack in available supplies resulting from the “hoarding” by the developed Western nations of their own vaccines. 

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) last January, India’s prime minister, wowed his audience with a rosy report on how India beat the pandemic and went on to advise that it was ready to save other countries by making available vaccines manufactured in the country. Modi touted its biggest manufacturer, Serum Institute of India, as a possible source of no less than 200 million doses for the WHO sponsored COVAX facility being a licensee of AstraZeneca and Novavax. It got advance payment for that as well as a “just-in-pricing” contract from other global NGOs for several millions more. 

 Well, as of April 21, Serum Institute has exported only 66 million doses of the paid-for 300 million and is asking those which have paid for the much needed vaccines for more time to supply the balance. That may take time, as the company has reported problems in a number of its facilities.  According to government records, SII had exported 66.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to 95 countries as of April 21. Of these, 19.8 million doses were supplied to COVAX, 10.7 million doses were exported as part of a grant by the Indian government to low-income countries, and 35.7 million doses were sold to countries around the world by SII through commercial contracts

Now, the recipients of the balance from Serum Institute and others who have relied on the Indian government’s assurances for its vaccine makers to supply 2 billion to 3 billion doses, the same may not be forthcoming anytime soon. They will have to secure the vaccines elsewhere or secure licensing arrangements for their own makers with the existing vaccine giants. There have also been reports that the Indian government has all but banned any more vaccine exports making things worse.

But that is less of a problem than that faced by Modi’s government which now has to answer to its people why despite its earlier success and boasts and, yes, with its huge vaccine manufacturing capacity it has allowed this “Ïndian apocalypse” to happen at all. 

Topics: India , COVID-19 , Apocalypse , Vikas Dandekar , Narendra Modi
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