Published: 07th June 2021
India could have been a vaccine powerforce had it kept massive infection spread at bay: Dr Krishna Udayakumar
Dr Krishna Udayakumar was speaking at the COVID Think Tank organised virtually by The New Indian Express on June 7, 2021
If India had been able to keep the infection spread at bay for another six months or so, it would have been be a massive global success story because it would have given time to ramp up vaccine manufacturing and given enough time to provide enough doses to high-risk individuals in India, said Dr Krishna Udayakumar, Founder of the Duke Global Health Innovation Centre. "Right now there is a humanitarian crisis in India and rightly so, the domestic manufacturing is being used for domestic needs. But almost a hundred of the poorest countries getting Covaxin through the AMC model also don't get access to the vaccines as they were predominantly relying on manufacturing in India by the Serum Institute for their access. We are unfortunately seeing a disaster unfolding in India that's going to continue for weeks and in the downstream it has led to the lack of vaccines to the rest of the world," he explained while speaking on the topic Vaccine Vexation: Making a case for access.
Dr Udayakumar was speaking at the COVID Think Tank organised by The New Indian Express on June 7, 2021. The online event is being conducted from June 7 to 15 where eminent experts will speak on the COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking on how India and countries around the world could have prepared better for the second wave, he added, "What's happening around is heartbreaking and it is disruption that could have been avoided. There was a good narrative in India about how they dealt with the first wave of the pandemic but unfortunately instead of feeling a sense of urgency to be prepared for what would inevitably be a second wave of infections, what we saw instead among politicians especially was complacency and a premature declaration of victory over the pandemic. What we have seen is this divergence on one hand between science and science-based public health approaches which is what the best responses have centered on. And on the other hand, we have seen political leadership diverge from science and move to reopening either too quickly or failing to follow evidence-based guidelines. That's certainly not just for India, we have seen the same happen in the US and the UK that follow the same lines and have moved in a path that has led to greater loss of life."
He goes on to add that so much of this pandemic story is about wasted time. "Similarly, between the first, second, and third waves in different parts of the world we didn't realise the urgency of the need to prepare for this well enough. It's not a unique story in India but in too many countries around the world wasting what little time we had to respond proactively. Looking forward, this has to lead to some better lessons learnt and better preparedness for the future. We have to have stronger surveillance systems in place which can pick up emerging infections a week into their development. Raise the alarm as soon as possible. There's been a clear triumph of science in the past 15 months with vaccines being manufactured in record time. We have the resilience in our health systems to face something like this, but it falls apart during times of crisis so we need to decentralise and regionalise our vaccine manufacturing capacities and other capacity around the world. Create manufacturing hubs, which will lead to more equitable access," he added.
He added that we need to focus on what we can do today. "We have to figure out how to shore up and stabilise the health systems in many places across India, the spread is leading to disruption, corrupting the functioning of several health systems, we have to figure out in getting enough health workers, backing them up with what they need, getting basic supplies, testing, oxygen, PPEs, all of the things that require systems and infrastructure. It might be too little too late but there is some inflow of aid coming in from foreign countries. We need to get a system in place to get this aid distributed where it's most needed, not based on political preferences," he said.
Dr Udayakumar said that we need to ensure that we are reinvigorating our response based on scientific evidence. "We need to have other things in place such as more robust testing, quarantine systems, masking and medication strategies. And finally figure out how to manufacture or import more vaccines in India," he opines. Finally, he concluded by saying that it is important to remind leaders to invest in health. "Global leaders need to send a clear message about global health, however, at this point, we shouldn't lose track of the health and humanitarian needs across the world," he added.