Being Covid-safe cannot be an alibi for procrastination. This is not the time to continue to bask in the glory of being Covid- safe. This is the time for urgent and carefully planned action
By Mrinal Roy
2020 was a difficult and trying year owing to the coronavirus. A new year is always a harbinger of hope and the promise of a new dawn. The approval and green light given by internationally recognized regulatory authorities in the world and the World Health Organization for the emergency use of a range of effective vaccines against Covid-19 have heightened hopes across the world. Vaccines provide a key pathway towards normality.
“Amidst new spikes of coronavirus infection and extension of lockdowns across Europe in UK, Germany, France and Ireland, etc., countries across the world have started vast campaigns to vaccinate their population with vaccines validated and approved by vaccine regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration in the US, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the UK, the European Medicines Agency in the European Union, the Drugs Controller General of India and the regulating authorities in their countries…”
The Covid-19 pandemic however remains unabated. New and more infectious strains of Covid-19 were detected in the United Kingdom in November and in South Africa in December 2020. These new strains have spread to a large number of countries in Europe and across the world through cross border travel. As a consequence, more than 40 countries in Europe and in the world have closed their borders with the UK to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 variant to their countries. Borders have also been closed to travellers from or transiting through South Africa. On 10 January 2021, Japan’s Health Ministry announced that another variant of the Covid-19 has been detected in the country.
Viruses constantly mutate. It is therefore not surprising that since its emergence in China in late 2019, Covid-19 has gone through multiple minor variations as well as several major mutations. Experts say that these new variants are more contagious but not more deadly.
Vast vaccination campaigns
Amidst new spikes of coronavirus infection and extension of lockdowns across Europe in UK, Germany, France and Ireland, etc., countries across the world have started vast campaigns to vaccinate their population with vaccines validated and approved by vaccine regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in the European Union, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) and the regulating authorities in their countries.
The United Kingdom thus became the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use and the first country to start its vaccination programme against Covid-19. In a new milestone in the global battle against Covid-19, Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old grandmother became the first person to be vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on 8 December.
Apart from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the approved Covid-19 vaccines for emergency use by the relevant regulatory authorities include the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the Modena vaccine, the Russian Sputnik V, the Chinese Sinopharm. The Drugs Controller General of India has approved the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine and Covaxin the Indian vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech for emergency use in the country. The vaccines are reported to be effective against the various new strains of Covid-19.
40 countries and counting
Vaccination campaigns have therefore been rolled out with some glitches in countries across the world. After Britain, more than 40 countries have already started vaccinating their population. Israel is leading the world in terms of its vaccination rate, with nearly 20% of its population having already received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The other countries leading the rate of vaccination include the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, United Kingdom, United States, Denmark and Iceland.
On 16 January 2021, India kick-starts the world’s biggest vaccination drive aiming to vaccinate 300 million people in the first half of 2021. The first persons to be vaccinated will be some 30 million healthcare andfrontline workers who will get the Covid-19 vaccines for free. The second stage will include the vaccination of some 270 million elderly people above 50 years of age and those vulnerable below 50 of age with comorbidities or with high risk of infection. An App has been devised to register, identify and monitor the health of beneficiaries of Covid-19 vaccines, be alert to any related health problems and ensuring that each person receives the prescribed two doses of vaccine. Every vaccinated person is made to wait for half an hour at vaccination centres to check for any adverse reactions.
India, which is the biggest vaccine producer in the world, is expected to play a key role in supplying vaccines to the world. Its largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India (SII) is already producing between 60 and 70 million doses of the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine a month. This vaccine is to be sold at INR Rs 200 (MRU Rs 108) per dose. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that India would be a major Covid-19 vaccine supplier to the world in coming months.
Several countries, including Brazil, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and South Africa, have already made official requests to receive vaccines from India. According to media reports, South Africa has ordered 1.5 million vaccine doses from the Serum Institute. Similarly Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has urgently requested 2 million doses for his country. India will have to balance its huge local requirements for its vaccination programme with the international demand for affordable Covid-19 vaccines.
We are in this battle together
At a time when we need world solidarity and cooperation to vaccinate and protect some 7.8 billion people in the world against Covid-19 through a global vaccination programme to stop the pandemic, the vaccination data show that rich and middle-income countries have secured almost all the available vaccine supply to date.
The world must remember that we are in this battle together. We cannot restore pre-Covid-19 normality if large sections of the population are not vaccinated or a number of countries are unable to vaccinate their population. A divide between those who are vaccinated and those who are not is not a sustainable option for the future. More than ever before in its chequered history, the world needs to show solidarity to ensure that the whole world population is vaccinated. This will take time but it has to be done in a planned and coordinated manner with everybody on board in order to stem the Covid-19 pandemic for the benefit of all mankind.
Imperative to act now
Is the Government and Mauritius slow in getting out of the starting gate? Is the Government distracted by the scandals plaguing its governance and lacking focus? Being Covid-safe cannot be an alibi for procrastination. This is not the time to continue to bask in the glory of being Covid- safe. This is the time for urgent and carefully planned action. We need to move forward.
The country faces daunting socio economic challenges relating to the dire fallouts of the Covid-19 pandemic in a context of growing indebtedness, stressed public finances and worsening economic fundamentals. Vaccines are a passport towards normality. Delaying the vaccination programme stalls progress towards normality. We need to act now.
The two conditions necessary to chart a pathway towards normality are firstly the urgent vaccination of the whole population according to a well-thought-out vaccination plan. This inter alia means making a judicious choice of vaccine after a careful assessment of the cost, storage conditions, effectiveness, availability and any side-effects of each available vaccine, especially as two vaccines doses are required per person. We must remember that the development and production of vaccines is also a commercial venture. We need to see through the marketing hype and contrived narratives.
The plan must also take on board the health profile of the population and the risks related to chronic health problems and allergies.
The second condition is that the countries which are our main sources of tourists and trading partners have also embarked on a vaccination programme for their population which comprises the two doses required. Normality in our main markets means a boost in demand for our exports through e-commerce. It is only when these two key conditions are fulfilled that our borders can be progressively opened to Covid-19 vaccinated travellers having an officially validated international vaccination certificate.
Getting our act together
Mauritius therefore needs to urgently get its act together. Government must realize that the urgent vaccination of the population is a priority. It is an essential step towards rebooting the economy and triggering the socio-economic recovery of the country. Any further dragging of feet in organizing and kick starting the campaign to vaccinate the people adds to the tremendous costs already borne by the country. It is irresponsible and condemnable to delay this necessary step towards normality any further. This is not the time for lame excuses to justify such dilly-dallying.
We also need to overhaul and recast a faltering economic model which plumbs the prospects of the country. The urgent vaccination of the population will also give us a competitive edge and open up new market opportunities for the country. We therefore need to decide and take urgent action now to steer the country towards normality.
* Published in print edition on 15 January 2021
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