Science must guide India, Britain: the fueling of vaccine nationalism will fail us all
One of the seven sins that we should not commit, as warned by Mahatma Gandhi, is “science without humanity”. But are we aware enough to ensure that the global fight against Covid takes Gandhi ji’s message into account?
Just before Gandhi ji’s birthday, the Indian government announced its mutual policy that UK nationals arriving in India must undergo mandatory quarantine for 10 days after their arrival (regardless of their vaccination status). Previously, the UK had announced its travel policy requiring Indians, regardless of their vaccination status, to be quarantined for 10 days after arriving in the UK.
The UK had announced an even more problematic policy, but it was corrected when there were legitimate protests against not recognizing vaccinated Indians because 90% of people fully vaccinated in India had received the vaccine (Oxford AstraZeneca), its scientific research and development by UK based agencies (although it was made in India by the Serum Institute of India). Legitimate questions have been raised, will the UK not recognize its own citizens who have received the same vaccine (but not made in India)? Fortunately, sanity prevailed and after a few days of intense lobbying around the United Nations General Assembly, the UK government made it clear that it recognizes the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine made in India, but their concern was the vaccine certification process in India.
The Indian government says the UK’s travel policy is discriminatory towards Indians. It is for this reason that the Government of India has announced that from October 2021, all UK nationals traveling to India will be required to have a Covid-19 RT-PCR test prior to departure within 72 hours of travel, another RT-PCR -Test on arrival at the airport, and an RT-PCR test on the eighth day after arrival. They also have to quarantine for 10 days at home or at their destination address.
Does nationalism trump science?
Not just the UK and India, but all countries around the world must be on the same side that the only possible way out of the pandemic is to stand united and move forward along with the oft-quoted chant of governments that “no one is left behind”. The population worldwide must be fully vaccinated on time (United Nations Health Authority, the goal of the World Health Organization (WHO) for all countries is to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population by June 2022). Vaccinating the population around the world will lessen the severity of the disease and drastically lower Covid deaths (as has happened in countries where much of the population is fully vaccinated) and give us hope for herd immunity that may our way out the pandemic. However, the unfair introduction of vaccines is so ugly that 80% of 6 billion vaccine doses have been administered in rich countries to date. I hope this changes for more equity in the global adoption of vaccines.
All countries must also interrupt the chain of transmission of infections. People should wear appropriate masks, maintain physical distance, hygiene, and other measures to minimize the risk of infection from spreading.
Thailand’s mandatory quarantine policy for all foreign travelers
The Thai government has a strict mandatory quarantine policy for anyone who has ended up in the Land of Smiles, regardless of which country the person is from. Two weeks of quarantine among other things (in a hotel complex) is standard in Thailand. However, Thailand is also reporting an alarming number of new cases, but we must commend Thailand for reducing the risk of the spread of infection from those arriving via Thai airports.
So India and the UK have to decide: if mandatory quarantine for arriving passengers from a foreign country (regardless of vaccination status) is a good policy to reduce the risk of the spread of infection, why then only reciprocally towards each other’s citizens and why not for all? Incoming passengers on international flights landing in India or the UK?
Science tells us that the specificity and sensitivity of Covid diagnostics is not 100% and vaccination currently reduces the risk of Covid disease severity and risk of dying from Covid, but evidence that vaccines prevent that Fully vaccinated people are still getting infected with the coronavirus (or passing it on to others).
So the governments of India and the UK – if the intent is to reduce the risk of infection from overseas travelers, and if science tells us that mandatory quarantine is the right policy, then it shouldn’t apply to all nationalities, including Indian and English , are valid? enter their own nations from foreign countries?
The UK Government’s concerns about Indian vaccine certification also need to be addressed without allowing nationalist talk or ego to tarnish our judgment and decision-making. Global vaccine certification must be done in such a way that it functions like passports – which can be verified by authorities around the world.
For example, recently there was news that counterfeit vaccination certificates were exposed in states like Gujarat and Telangana. Or there was news from those who had received the vaccination card without being vaccinated. The Indian government has now stepped up measures and it is reported that the CoWin app offers a safer vaccine certification process for international travelers. We hope this is in line with global standards.
Why aren’t all 6 India approved vaccines introduced?
Also, let’s not forget that there are currently six vaccines approved in India but only three are used. Of these three vaccines, only one is primarily used (Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and sold as Covishield). Covaxin (manufactured by Bharat Biotech) is also introduced along with Sputnik (Russian vaccine), but the number of people who have received Sputnik is very small, although Covaxin intake is relatively higher than Sputnik’s but far less than that of Covishield.
Why are the other three vaccines not being introduced in India even though they were approved some time ago? Moderna (licensed to Cipla for marketing), Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine (licensed to Biological-E for domestic production), and Zydus Cadila’s ZyCovD are yet to be rolled out in the country. In addition to expanding the supply side, it is equally important to expand India’s capacities for exporting vaccines to those countries with urgent vaccine needs.
At this moment of ongoing global health emergency, not just India and the UK but all countries around the world are hoping that Gandhi ji’s wisdom of “Science with Humanity” will guide the Covid response.
Bobby Ramakant – CNS (Citizen Intelligence Service)
(Bobby Ramakant is a 2008 WNTD Awardee of the Director General of the World Health Organization and part of the CNS (Citizen News Service) and Asha Parivar teams. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyRamakant or read www.bit.ly/BobbyRamakant)
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