Covid crisis: Manmohan Singh writes to PM suggesting five-point remedy; stresses vaccination key to battling pandemic

NEW DELHI, 18 Apr: Former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, suggesting five measures to battle the Covid-19 crisis, including ramping up vaccination and boosting the supply of medicines.

In a letter to the prime minister, the veteran Congress leader said one must not look at absolute numbers but the total percentage of the population that has been vaccinated.

Invoking compulsory licencing provisions for drug manufacturers and giving some flexibility to states to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years are some of the steps mooted by him.

“The key to our fight against Covid-19 must be ramping up the vaccination effort. We must resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated,” he said in his letter.

Noting that India currently has vaccinated only a small fraction of its population, Singh said he is certain that with the right policy design, “we can do much better and very quickly.”

“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,” he said while making several suggestions.

Currently, people above 45 years of age are eligible for vaccination.

Singh said some states 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, and they can then be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years.

The suggestions come a day after the Congress Working Committee met and discussed the efforts required to fight the Covid pandemic.

Singh said the Centre should publicize vaccine dose orders placed and accepted for delivery over the next six months. He said the government should indicate how vaccine supplies are to be distributed to the states.

“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 noted.

The former PM said the government should indicate how this expected vaccine supply will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula.

He suggested that the central government could retain 10 percent for distribution based on emergency needs, and states should have a clear signal of likely availability so that they can plan their rollout.

Noting that India has emerged as the largest vaccine producer in the world, he said at this time of a public health emergency, the government must proactively support vaccine producers to expand their manufacturing facilities quickly by providing funds and other concessions.

“I believe this is the time to invoke the compulsory licencing 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,” he said.

Singh said he is forwarding his suggestions for consideration in a spirit of constructive cooperation in which he has always believed and acted upon.

“I hope the government will accept these suggestions immediately and act on them promptly,” he said. (PTI)