The ‘one billion doses’ hype

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed India’s people 10 times during the country’s COVID-19 epidemic. This is fairly regular but also not frequent – that is, Modi’s addresses are something of special occasions, especially since it’s one of the few ways he interacts with the people at large (he doesn’t like speaking to the independent media) and even if most of what he says is banal. In the latest edition, for example, he celebrated the fact that India had administered one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines between January 16 and October 21, 2021.

Now, why was this point the subject of a prime ministerial address? It’s quite nonsensical. If you wait long enough, any country with at least 500 million adults is going to administer one billion doses of two-dose COVID-19 vaccines. It’s not an achievement – it’s the natural course of action, like pooping if you’ve eaten enough food or peeing if you’ve had enough water. Unless of course the prime minister considers the metaphorical pooping and peeing to be achievements as well – i.e. that vaccines were produced at all, distributed at all and pierced skin at all…

A little more than a year ago, the same government also claimed a 70% COVID-19 recovery rate in India as an achievement. It was the same logic, and the same perversion of common sense: on average, {X}% of people everywhere with COVID-19 will recover because, on average, {100 minus X}% of COVID-19 patients die – if you wait long enough. The question the prime minister should have answered then, and should be answering now, is why it took so long.

On the latter count: he promised in mid-January 2021 that the Union health ministry would vaccinate India’s 300 million frontline and healthcare workers by July. But as of September 30, 99% of healthcare workers had received at least one dose and 85% had received both doses. These figures are likely to be lower if frontline workers, like the police and municipal workers, are included. No doubt 85% is a big number, but we are also three months past the deadline and the delta variant has accentuated the difference between one dose and two doses.

So these figures only speak of a government that can’t plan properly and is destined to celebrate only that which will happen anyway.

(The penultimate paragraph above appeared in an article by my colleague Ajoy Ashirwad, published on October 22, 2021, as one of my inputs.)