Open up COVID-19 inoculation to 'everyone who needs it', halt vaccine exports: Rahul Gandhi to PM

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New Delhi, Apr 9 (PTI) Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, demanding an immediate moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine exports when the nation is facing 'vaccine starvation', and sought opening up of vaccination to 'everyone who needs it'.

In his letter, Gandhi also sought more say to state governments in vaccine procurement and distribution, and asked for a provision of a direct income support to vulnerable sections amid the disastrous second wave of COVID-19 in India. 'I humbly request you to provide vaccine suppliers with necessary resources to increase manufacturing capacity and place an immediate moratorium on vaccine export,' Gandhi said as he extended his support to the vaccination programme. 'Open up vaccination to everyone who needs it,' he demanded and sought fast-tracking of approval of other vaccines as per norms and guidelines. Questioning the government for permitting large-scale exports of vaccines, he said, 'While our nation is facing vaccine starvation, more than six crore doses of vaccines have been exported.' Gandhi in his letter also asked the prime minister to double the central allocation for vaccine procurement from the existing Rs 35,000 crore and give state governments a greater say in vaccine procurement and distribution. His suggestions came a day after Prime Minister Modi said vaccines will have to be prioritised due to limited supply and lamented that some people were playing politics on the issue. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad hit out at Gandhi alleging that the shortage in Congress-ruled states is not of vaccines but of commitment, even as Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala asked the BJP leader not to rile and follow 'Raj dharma' instead. In his letter to the prime minister, Gandhi also said that state governments were repeatedly highlighting vaccine shortage only to receive intemperate statements by the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. He accused the health minister of targeting opposition-ruled states and undercutting cooperative federalism. In an apparent reference to the prime minister's picture on vaccination certificates, Gandhi said, 'Our vaccination programme has to move beyond an individual's picture on the vaccine certificate, towards guaranteeing maximum vaccination.' The former Congress chief stressed that his party supports only a well-planned, universalised and speedy vaccination drive.

Taking a swipe at Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's remark after the notification on interest rates was taken back, he asked, 'Was the export of vaccines also an 'oversight', like many other decisions of this government, or an effort to garner publicity at the cost of our own citizens.' 'This is unfortunate considering our scientific community and vaccine suppliers worked overtime to develop a solution but their efforts are undermined by the Centre's poor implementation and 'oversight',' Gandhi said. Expressing concern over the rising cases of the coronavirus, he said that over the last year, the country suffered many irreparable losses, made tremendous sacrifices, and yet, it is under a renewed attack by this virus.

Gandhi alleged that the vaccination drive in the country is slow and said at the current rate, it would take years to inoculate 75 per cent of the population. 'This will have catastrophic effects and will gravely decelerate India's economy,' he added. The former Congress chief said even though public health is a state subject, 'our states have been bypassed right from vaccine procurement to registration'. He alleged that a large section of the poor have been excluded due to the initial mandatory online registration. In his attack on Gandhi, Ravi Shankar Prasad had tweeted, 'Rahul Gandhi must know that shortage in Congress-ruled states is not of vaccines but of basic commitment towards healthcare.' 'He should write letters to his party's governments to stop their 'vasooli' (extortion) ventures and concentrate on administering the lakhs of vaccines they are sitting on,' he said. India is not facing vaccine starvation but Gandhi is facing 'attention starvation', Prasad said. 'Why has Rahul Gandhi not yet taken vaccine? Is it an oversight or he doesn't want it or has he already taken one in many of his undisclosed trips to foreign locations but doesn't want to disclose?' he said. 'After failing as a part-time politician, has Rahul Gandhi switched to full-time lobbying? First, he lobbied for fighter plane companies by trying to derail India's acquisition programme. Now, he is lobbying for pharma companies by asking for arbitrary approvals for foreign vaccines,' Prasad said. Hitting back, Surjewala said Prasad should stop riling and start serving the country and follow 'Raj dharma'. 'So stop riling, frothing and steaming up. Start serving India and fellow Indians. Follow 'Raj Dharma',' he said. 'Dear Prasad, you and ministers in government have become perpetually ranting, ill-tempered, churlish trolls. We will lobby for public good when the Modi government causes loss of Euro 2.81 Billion (Rs 21,075 crore) to exchequer in Rafale Scam. Obviously, it cheeses you off,' Surejwala tweeted. The Congress leader said that his party will lobby for every Indian to be vaccinated and end discrimination in allocation of vaccine to opposition states. The party will lobby for halting export of coronavirus vaccine when our fellow Indians are facing huge shortages and end of digital isolation of poor in vaccination, Surjewala tweeted. PTI SKC ANB ANB