Commodore Lokesh Batra, who has long worked for transparency in governance in India, in a series of Right to Information applications, sought information on the procurement of vaccines by the Government of India, allotment data to states, and data of vaccine doses available in the states and those actually used. He sought this information from March 2021.
On May 2, 2021, he received a response from the Department of Health and Family Welfare stating that “Initially the Government of India through PM Care funds procured 5.6 crore doses of vaccine produced by Serum Institute of India at Rs210 per dose (this was inclusive of 5% GST); one crore doses of Covaxin was also procured through PM Cares, at Rs309.75 per dose (including GST).
“However, at present, Government of India through Union Budget has procured the Covid 19 vaccines (Covishield 10 crore doses and Covaxin two crore doses) at unit cost of Rs157.50” the response read. The answer to the RTI application also states that 11 crore doses of Covishield and 5.5 crore doses of Covaxin were in the process of being acquired, at the same Rs157.50 per dose rate.
The RTI response was sent on May 2, 2021, and pertains to data from March to May 2, 2021. What is clear is that in all 6.6 crore doses had been procured under PM Cares, and 12 crore under the Union Budget. Given that vaccine procurement and distribution is an ongoing process, there might be, one might acknowledge, some minor discrepancies in the figures of the total procurement and distribution at certain points of time, with a time lag perhaps existing between the time of the procurement and distribution, and the tallying of all data.
One seasoned journalist who has tracked these matters over decades explained that there might be no reason in particular for the price difference of vaccines bought under the PM Cares fund and the budget. When government enters into negotiations honestly, it might through bulk purchase be able to command better prices.
This is also why the Supreme Court, hearing a suo motu case on Monday, instructed the Central government to buy vaccines so that they are not priced differently in different states, and states are not forced to enter into competition with each other for the vaccines.
Meanwhile, one lawyer has filed a plea in the Supreme Court seeking that public sector units that were arbitrarily shut down by the Manmohan Singh government should be revived, since capacity of manufacturing medicines and vaccines in the government sector ought to be enhanced. Within five years of the suspension of the PSUs in this sector, the price of the pharmaceutical products they produced rose 250%, according to the petitioner, as the government was forced to acquire supplies from the private sector. CEO Adar Poonawalla of Serum Institute of India admitted to NDTV that he was making profits, and had sacrificed “super profits” in supplying Covishield to the Government of India.
Meanwhile, Big Pharma has become enormously powerful, and news channel WION reported that Pfizer was bulling countries to put up sovereign assets like military bases as collateral for expected vaccine injury lawsuits. Pfizer executives were also found discussing the possible hike in vaccine prices once the pandemic was declared over.
The 2009 film Profiteers of Fear chronicled how the ‘swine flu’ was declared a pandemic just at a time when Big Pharma was facing sluggish growth and no new products; with older medicines going out of patent, the potential for profiting from them dropped and there were no new products that could be sold at huge profit. That was when the world was whipped into frenzy about swine flu, and stocks of vaccines were bought to deal with swine flu, which was later found to be quite harmless.
Although one year ago all talk that the Covid virus was an engineered one that escaped from a laboratory was dismissed as “conspiracy”, even Antony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, now agrees that this theory deserves to be more deeply probed. The lab leak theory (there is nothing to indicate any leak was deliberately done; what is currently surmised is that there was an accidental escape from the lab) was earlier proposed by Dr Judy Mikovits, who had attempted to blow the whistle on what is called gain-of-function research, attempting to make viruses more virulent.
In all this, though, we tend to lose sight of the fact that many cures are drawn from nature. There has been a deliberate attempt in modern medicine to downplay natural cures, especially since what is natural cannot be patented and become the source of profit. Under patent laws, only a new product capable of industrial application can be patented. India successfully challenged a patent that was issued by the US government for the healing properties of turmeric over 20 years ago.
There is now evidence to show that the create-a-problem-then-sell-a-solution strategy in medicine is not new at all. Oil magnate John Rockefeller carried out a deliberate propaganda to discredit alternative health practitioners who used natural cures. This tradition continues, and at least one Ayurvedic doctor in India thinks Covid is not such a deadly virus, and could be managed through timely treatment. Dr PLT Girija also remarks that the media will not feature those working like her with natural cures, and guidelines on social media also prevent people from posting such news.
But Dr Girija is not alone in not being heard. Even prominent doctors in the US, who have discovered the enormous potential of Ivermectin to cure Covid are surprised that their message is not heard. These doctors have now got together to promote the use of Ivermectin, and find that they get no space at all in the mainstream media. Ivermectin too is a natural cure, and was first discovered in the soil in Japan. It has been used for over 40 years in the treatment of conditions caused by parasites, and is known to be safe at reasonable doses. Yet, each time it is proposed as the remedy to Covid 19, doctors are reminded, including by the World Health Organization, that there are not enough studies to support its use.
Doctors who have been promoting it are puzzled – here is an effective drug that no one is supporting, while the Big Pharma strongly backs vaccination, even though there have been over 4,000 post-vaccine deaths in the US alone, and some European countries have banned the use of certain vaccines in young populations, seeing that the vaccines cause them greater harm than the virus.
So what is the way out? I’d like to offer a personal opinion here – the virus does not affect healthy people, in the main. What we need is a population that is able to have a good diet, sufficient rest and enough exercise. For that, we need work with dignity, hours of work that are reasonable, allowing working people leisure. We also need an environment that is free of pollution and toxins that could affect human health. The widespread use of plastic, for instance, needs to be curtailed.
Despite how sunny our country is, we have a population with Vitamin D deficiency. Supplementation of this vitamin too was recommended as part of the treatment regime for Covid 19. More people need to just step out in the sun and ensure that they are not Vitamin D deficient.
Medicine is not politics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi must not assume he knows best, and should feel no shame in reaching out for advice and help. If he can bring himself to work with greater transparency, and perhaps meet more people in India’s villages instead of travelling abroad each chance he gets, he might make more decisions that benefit us all.