By the end of January, India had finished its dry runs and put vaccine centers all over the country with a plan to roll out 50 to 60 million doses per month. If all went according to plan, around 300 million people (basically the size of the entire US population) would be vaccinated in under three months. In early April, India was administering doses at a whopping rate of 3.5 million per day.
The rate dropped to a meager 450,000 per day in May due to a shortage of vaccines, even though India has the biggest vaccine manufacturing plants in the world. Amid online sign-up crashes, moving vaccine stock control from 100 percent at the federal level to allowing states and private hospitals to get access to 50 percent of reserves, and the rise of multiple variants, India has spiraled into one of the worst COVID surges ever. The daily rate of cases has increased to 400,000 cases per day, compared to 180,000 in the U.S. at its peak. The death rate has reached 3,900 per day and last week, Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute—India’s largest vaccine manufacturer—told the Financial Times from London that India’s vaccine supply shortage may last until July.
Many factors, as mentioned above, have contributed to this near-calamity, but one that is truly shocking is the vaccine itself. India has been administering (and continues to administer) AstraZeneca. The British-Swedish collaboration, once regarded as the solution to this disaster, has turned out to be simply ineffective. An interview with a local doctor, Dr. Sneha Shukla, who has been working as a vaccine center administrator in my hometown, revealed gruesome inefficiencies in the administered vaccine.
“My entire batch of doctors [in Allahabad] got vaccinated a few weeks ago, the second dose,” said Dr. Shukla. “I was so sick, for a couple days but, after that, it was like a rush of relief, like we are so close to the end of this. This week alone, half of my batch tested positive despite being double vaccinated. The transmission rate is still high for vaccinated people, and the vaccine will just prevent you from dying, but there is still chances of needing oxygen if you get COVID.”
We vaccinated more than 100 million people with a vaccine that just didn’t work well. I can feel the horror of that statement in my bones. In late April, Poonawalla, directed a formal appeal to the United States for assistance in vaccinating the second largest population in the world by lifting the ban on export of COVID vaccine raw materials. The appeal was met with an ‘America First’ response from the Biden administration. This is despite Biden’s claims of the US becoming “an arsenal of vaccines” for the world.
On a certain level, I find it understandable for the US government to first focus on American people, for the US is high on the list of greatest number of COVID cases per day. However, when everything is descending into chaos, solidarity is what would save us.
It is also worth noting that recent studies have shown that India being the epicenter of the pandemic is not just bad for Indians but literally everyone. A prolonged pandemic in such a densely populated country will lead to new variants and our vaccines will not be able to keep up with these emerging variants. Not to mention, the longer India remains in this desolate state, the harder the impact on the world economy. Surging COVID infection halfway across the world will scuttle efforts to end the pandemic everywhere. Pfizer has recently come into talks with Indian government officials to potentially facilitate an export in the coming month. However, aside from the fact that this new development can’t possibly come fast enough, the course of action is still drenched in uncertainty, as a big proportion of the daily positive cases are people who have already been vaccinated.
This article is a cry for help. As a double-vaxxed, 20-year-old student, who is surrounded by an overabundance of wonderful housemates and friends, it is beyond horrifying for me to even think of my situation compared to that of my family. Selfishness and guilt do not even begin to cover it, and I acknowledge that my way of coping with this disaster back home was to disassociate myself emotionally from it. However, the South Asian Student Association (MOSAIC) has been doing a great job at finding resources and doing their part. If you can and want to help in any way possible, please refer to this link: tinyurl.com/mutualaidindia or email [email protected] OR, you can venmo: MOSAIC-CARLETON. All proceeds will go to organisations in India including Hemkunt Foundation, Khalsa Aid and Khaana Chahiye who are working hard to provide support and food to areas that have been worst-hit. We may be close to the end of the tunnel, but it is easy to generalize the Carleton bubble to a larger group. The rest of the world is still in the midst of this nightmare. This is the time to do whatever we can to utilise our position of privilege and do our part to support those we don’t even know. That’s the togetherness that will bring us ALL out of this.