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KT Exclusive: India needs to make 'desperate decisions' to tackle Covid crisis, says Dr Devi Shetty

Seethalakshmi S/Bengaluru
Filed on May 17, 2021
Photo: AFP

Centralised procurement of vaccines is the best way to ensure equity for all states, said the renowned cardiologist.


No precious time should be lost in fast-tracking India's vaccination drive, renowned Indian cardiologist and chairman of Narayana Hrudayalaya Dr Devi Shetty, 68, said in a passionate plea on Monday.

It is important to ensure every step is initiated to protect more of the country's population, estimated at over 1.3 billion, from the deadly virus, he told Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview.

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Last week, the Supreme Court of India (SCI) appointed Dr Shetty as a member of the 12-member national task force. The Karnataka government has also appointed him to advise on preparing an action plan to contain an imminent third wave of the viral outbreak — even as the second wave roils the south Indian state.

Excerpts from the interview:

India's Covid-19 count has touched 247 million, but barely 13 per cent of the population has been vaccinated so far. How serious is the country’s vaccine crisis?

There is no doubt about the urgency and seriousness of getting everyone vaccinated in India. The virus is far too ahead. And the second wave continues to shock everyone, including the medical fraternity.

There is an acute vaccine shortage across the world. But we’re a big country and our challenges are different from others. We’re in an emergency situation. So, we really need to make some desperate decisions.

But vaccines take time and processes cannot be compromised.

Absolutely. We can’t compromise even on a single life. But we must not insist on liabilities in this situation. Liabilities should never be on the table for discussion. If a vaccine is approved in another country and the citizens there have taken it, then immediately allow it to be administered for our citizens. We’ve no time to waste now.

What's stopping us from doing that?

I don’t want to discuss problems, as this is not the time to do that. I would like to give solutions as we, as a country, must look ahead and fix the problem.

We must understand that vaccine manufacturers will commence production only upon advance payment. Assuming we place orders for five million doses of vaccine and Covid-19 goes away (hopefully), citizens will not take the vaccine and the vaccines will be wasted. Who will pay these companies then? This is why it is important that the government must extend advance payment to vaccine manufacturers and fix a deadline for them to deliver it. This is the only way to save lives in this situation.

After all, vaccine manufacturers also want to do business and there is competition the world over. Every country has begun negotiating for fast-tracking the production, as they want to guard their citizens against the virus as quickly as possible.

For the vaccine manufacturers, it does not matter where the order comes from — whether it’s the US, Europe or India. The key is to fix a price, make the payment, and start work immediately.

But the Central government has told states to procure directly from manufacturers and start the process. Will that work?

In my view, centralised procurement is the best way to ensure equity for all states. How would it be for a company if Karnataka pays Dh50 and Maharashtra pays Dh45? We’re creating unnecessary competition and these issues will end up in court cases. We cannot get into state-wise negotiations at this stage when so many lives are being lost daily.

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So, what is the way ahead for early vaccination for all?

Set up a centralised agency with all states being part of it. There must be collective talking, pricing, and unified negotiations. Once this happens, the process will be seamless, fast, and more transparent than individual states talking separately to vaccine manufacturers which will take too much time.

What is the point in a state getting a vaccine in the middle of next year simply because they did not negotiate better? It's high time for all of us to fight the Covid-19 challenge unitedly and not in our own territories.





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