Current Affairs (11th May 2021)
Challenge ahead in vaccinating India
- The world over, and in India also, even after so many vaccines having been approved, there is a huge shortage of supply, and unjustifiable and inequitable access to these vaccines.
- Vaccine development is a highly complex and a specialised enterprise. Under normal circumstances, it takes 10-15 years to develop any vaccine after the scientific rationale has been worked out.
- But Covid-19 vaccines were developed at an astonishing pace. No other disease has seen so many vaccines developed so fast.
- Out of 250 candidate vaccines that were being developed, at least 10 have already been approved for emergency use in different parts of the world.
- Most of the first flush of approved vaccines were based on two technologies never used in humans earlier.
- These include mRNA-based vaccines of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and the viral vector-based vaccines of Astra Zeneca/Oxford University, Sputnik V, and Coronavac of CanSino Biologics from China.
- Vaccines based on the time-tested technology of using an inactivated virus include Covaxin of Bharat Biotech-ICMR, Janssen of Johnson and Johnson, and vaccines from Sinovac and Sinopharm from China.
- All these are safe and efficacious in protecting from severe disease and death but not necessarily from infection. These are given as two jabs, with the exception of Janssen, a single-shot vaccine, possibly a trendsetter for future vaccines.
- At least 50 more vaccines are in the pipeline with three or four close to approvals in different parts of the world. Several, including a DNA-based vaccine from Zydus Cadila in India, are in the final stages of development.
Shortage in India
- India is in the grip of the most ferocious second wave of the pandemic seen anywhere in the world.
- With more than 4 lakh cases reported per day, there is a serious concern that the virus could mutate into more dangerous variants and if the chain of viral multiplication is not controlled soon, it will become a global problem.
- New waves the world over are driven by mutants and although current vaccines seem effective against these, the chances of emergence of immune-escape mutants will only increase if the pandemic is not brought under control.
- India, with its inherently fragile healthcare system, has come under immense pressure as never before.
- There is an acute shortage of medical oxygen, and there is a big gap in the supply chain of the ambitious programme to vaccinate all its adult population.
- Although India ranks number three after the US and China in the absolute number of vaccines administered, only about 13% of its population has received a single jab and about 2% fully vaccinated.
- Many countries have already vaccinated more than half their adult population.
- First, with about seven billion people to be vaccinated worldwide, with mostly two jabs each, the demand is obviously very high.
- Second, among the rich nations, more than 80% of available vaccines have been ordered and/or already stocked by a few countries representing only about 20% of the world population.
- Even with a WHO-led effort like COVAX, only about 1% of the African population has received vaccines so far.
- As of now, only three vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, and recently Janssen — have been approved by the US FDA. The most affordable AstraZeneca vaccine still awaits approval.
- With recent reports of Pfizer getting approval for immunising the age group 12-16, and Moderna and Janssen close to completing safety and efficacy trials in this age group, it is clear that western countries, which have already immunised a significant portion of their adult populations, will proceed to vaccinate young children and, perhaps, even babies. It will therefore become even more difficult to access these vaccines in the free market.
- On the other hand, approval for Sputnik V was recently denied in Brazil. Vaccines of China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm are not yet approved in western countries.
- Then there is the issue of mandatory Co-Win registration as part of the new decentralised distribution strategy, which potentially adds to an entry barrier that could be tougher to navigate for users in the hinterland, both in terms access to the platform and an English-only interface for users so far.
- Vaccines are complex formulations of many components and depend on a seamless supply of raw materials that are mostly imported.
- From production of the bulk material to filling of the formulation in vials is a highly complex and time-consuming process that cannot be hastened.
- Ramping up of existing production, even after adequate funds are available, will inevitably take a minimum 2-3 months.
- Even if the licence is granted to vaccine manufacturers, actual production will take several months of preparation to kick off.
- The vaccination drive to cover India’s adult population will therefore face a supply chain crunch at least for the next few months, unless a large number of vaccines are imported.
- With at least three or four more vaccines, including Sputnik V, Janssen, and Novavax, already slated to be produced in India and several more being indigenously developed, India would certainly be producing vaccines to vaccinate major parts of the world, hopefully by the end of 2021.
- There is a joint proposal of India and South Africa that will be taken up once again at the World Trade Organization, and as per the latest update, the US has already responded positively in support of the proposal when it comes up for consideration sometime soon.
- Under this proposal, companies already producing Covid vaccines will be expected to share their IPR for at least a given period with enough safeguards of their own interests.
- That will greatly help in producing high quality and affordable vaccines for the whole world and, hopefully, all this will happen before the virus is able to develop immune escape mutants.
- The race is on and humanity has no option but to defeat the virus and stay ahead in this race.
- Efficacious and safe vaccines, regardless of their origin, need to be critically but quickly examined and added to the pool.
Gopal Krishna Gokhale
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tributes to Freedom Fighter and social reformer Gopal Krishna Gokhale on his birth anniversary.
- He was born on May 9, 1866, in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra (then Bombay Presidency) in a Brahmin family.
- He was one of the founding leaders of the Indian national movement.
- He was an immensely wise liberal nationalist, made outstanding contributions towards social empowerment.
- He represented the category of highly educated Indians.
- Gokhale became a member of the Indian National Congress in 1889. He was the leader of the moderate faction of the Congress party.In 1905, he was elected president of the Indian National Congress (Benares Session).
- This was also the time when bitter differences had arisen between his group of ‘Moderates’ and the ‘Extremists’led by Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak among others.
- Matters came to a head when the two factions split at the Surat session of 1907.
- Historians note that despite ideological differences, Gokhale maintained cordial relations with his opponents.
- In 1907, he fervently campaigned for the release of Lala Lajpat Rai, who was imprisoned that year by the British at Mandalay in present-day Myanmar.
- He played a leading role in bringing about Morley-Minto Reforms, the beginning of constitutional reforms in India.
- He is best remembered for his extensive work in colonial legislatures. Between 1899 and 1902, he was a member of the Bombay Legislative Council followed by a stint at the Imperial Legislative Council from 1902 till his death.
- At Bombay, he opposed the British government’s onerous land revenue policies and asked for the creation of equal opportunities to fight against untouchability.
- At the Imperial legislature, Gokhale played a key role in framing the Morley-Minto reforms of 1909 and advocated for the expansion of legislative councils at both the Centre and the provinces.
- A critic of British imperial bureaucracy, Gokhale favoured decentralisation and the promotion of panchayat and taluka bodies.
- He also spoke for the Indian diaspora living in other parts of the British Empire and opposed tooth and nail the indentured labour system, raising their problems in the Imperial legislature as well as at Congress sessions.
- Gokhale founded the Servants of India Society(SIS) in Maharashtra’s Pune on June 12, 1905.
- The SIS launched campaigns for the promotion of education, health care and sanitation.
- It also made efforts to eradicate social evils such as untouchability and oppression of women.
- It is noteworthy that he was one of the first big political leaders who raised the demand for free primary public education.
- He actively participating in budget debates when he was a member of the Imperial Legislative Council.
- His name is associated with an internationally-renowned economics institute – Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune.
- The institute was founded by Gokhale’s Servants of India Society in 1930, and it works with the mission to “provide education in all fields of economics with the singular purpose of contributing its might to enhance economic betterment and social welfare”.
- He started English weekly newspaper, The Hitavada (The people’s paper).
- In 1908, he founded the ‘Ranade Institute of Economics’.
- In his autobiography, Gandhi calls Gokhale his mentor and guide. In 1912, Gokhale visited South Africa at Gandhi’s invitation.
- He received personal guidance from Gokhale, including a knowledge and understanding of India and the issues confronting common Indians.
- Similarly, Jinnah was so inspired by Gokhle that his aspiration, during the early years of his political life, was to become a “Muslim Gokhle”.
- He launched the English weekly newspaper named The Hitavad (The people’s paper) in 1911.