Monday, November 29, 2021
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Science Must Guide India, UK: Stoking Vaccine Nationalism Will Fail Us All


One of the seven sins we should not commit as warned by
Mahatma Gandhi, is “science without humanity”. But are we
conscious enough to ensure that the global fight against
Covid is mindful of Gandhi ji’s message?

Right
before Gandhi ji’s birth anniversary, government of India
announced its reciprocal policy for UK nationals arriving in
India to undergo mandatory quarantine for 10 days after
their arrival (regardless of their vaccination status).
Earlier, UK had announced its travel policy that Indians,
regardless of their vaccination status, will have to undergo
the mandatory quarantine for 10 days after arriving in the
UK.

UK had announced an even more problematic policy
but it had course corrected when valid protests emerged
against it not recognising vaccinated Indians because 90% of
those fully vaccinated in India had received the vaccine
(Oxford AstraZeneca) whose scientific research and
development was done by UK-based agencies (though it was
made in India by Serum Institute of India). Valid questions
were raised will UK also not recognise its own citizens who
have received the same vaccine (but not made in India)?
Thankfully, sanity prevailed and after few days and intense
lobbying around the United Nations General Assembly, UK
government clarified that it does recognise the India-made
Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine but its concern was towards
vaccine certification process in India.

Indian
government says that UK’s travel policy is discriminatory
towards Indians. That is why Indian government announced
that from October 2021, all UK nationals travelling to India
will also have to undergo a pre-departure Covid-19 RT-PCR
test within 72 hours before travel, another RT-PCR test on
arrival at the airport, and an RT-PCR test on the eighth day
after arrival. They will also have to quarantine at home or
at their destination address for 10 days.

Is
nationalism trumping over science?

Not just UK and
India but all countries worldwide need to be on the same
page that the only possible way out of the pandemic is we
stand united and progress together with oft-quoted chant by
governments “no one is left behind”. Populations worldwide
need to be fully vaccinated in a time-bound manner (United
Nations health agency, the World Health Organization (WHO)
target for all countries is to vaccinate 70% of populations
globally by June 2022). Vaccinating populations globally
will reduce severity of the disease and bring down Covid
deaths drastically (as has happened in countries where large
part of the population is fully vaccinated) as well as may
give us hope to invoke herd immunity that may possibly show
us the path out of the pandemic. However inequitable rollout
of vaccine is so ugly with 80% of 6 billion vaccine doses
delivered in rich nations so far. Hope this changes for more
equity in vaccine rollout worldwide.

All countries
also need to break the chain of infection transmission.
People should wear proper masks, maintain physical distance,
hygiene, and other measures to curtail the risk of infection
spread, as much as possible.

Thailand’s mandatory
quarantine policy for all foreign arrivals

Thailand
government has had strict mandatory quarantine policy for
everyone who landed in the land of smiles regardless of
which country the person came from. Two weeks quarantine
among other measures (in a hotel facility) is a standard
norm in Thailand. Thailand is also reporting alarming number
of new cases though but we have to compliment Thailand for
reducing the risk of infection spread from those arriving
via Thai airports.

So India and UK needs to decide: if
mandatory quarantine for incoming passengers from foreign
land (regardless of vaccination status) is a good policy to
reduce the risk of infection spread, then why only
reciprocal to each other’s citizens, and why not for all
incoming passengers on International flights landing in
India or UK?

Science tells us that specificity and
sensitivity of Covid diagnostics is not 100% and vaccination
currently reduces risk of severity of Covid disease and
reduces risk of dying of Covid but evidence whether vaccines
prevent fully vaccinated people from getting infected from
corona virus (or spreading it to others) is still
emerging.

So India and UK governments – if the intent
is to reduce risk of infection spread from those arriving
from foreign nations, and if science tells us that mandatory
quarantine is the right policy, then should it not be for
all nationalities including Indians and English people
arriving in their own nations from foreign
lands?

Also, concerns of UK government on Indian
vaccine certification needs to be looked at without letting
nationalistic jingo or ego cloud our judgment and decision
making. Vaccine certification worldwide needs to be done in
a way that it works like travel passports – which can be
verified by authorities globally.

For example,
recently there was news that fake vaccine certificates scam
was exposed in states like Gujarat and Telangana. Or there
were news reports of those who received the vaccine
certificate without getting vaccinated. Indian government
has stepped up measures now and it is reported that the
CoWin app has a more secure vaccine certification process
for international travellers. We do hope this is in line
with global standards.

Why are all 6 vaccines approved
by India not being rolled out?

Also, we should not
forget that currently six vaccines are approved in India but
only three are being used. Among these three vaccines, only
one of these is majorly used (Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine
made by Serum Institute of India, and sold as Covishield, is
given ). Covaxin (made by Bharat Biotech) is also rolled out
along with Sputnik (Russian vaccine) but the number of
people who have got Sputnik is very low though Covaxin
uptake is relatively more than Sputnik but far less than
Covishield.

Why are other three vaccines not being
rolled out in India despite being approved sometime back?
Moderna (licensed to Cipla for marketing), Johnson &
Johnson single dose vaccine (licensed to Biological-E for
domestic production) and ZyCovD of Zydus Cadila are yet to
make a debut in the country. Alongside scaling up the supply
side, it is equally important to expand India’s capacity
manifold to export vaccines to those countries in dire need
of vaccines.

In this moment of prolonged global public
health emergency, hope not just India and UK but all
countries worldwide will let Gandhi ji’s wisdom of “science
with humanity” guide the Covid response.

Bobby
Ramakant is a World Health Organization Director General’s
WNTD Awardee 2008, and part of CNS (Citizen News Service)
and Asha Parivar teams. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyRamakant
or read
www.bit.ly/BobbyRamakant

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