It was a rare occasion when a chief minister and two senior ministers stood, almost reverentially, by a notso-very-important person who remained seated. The ‘lucky’ man was Tamil Nadu Government Doctors’ Association president Dr K Senthil, who rolled up the sleeves of his white coat and pink shirt to let a nurse at the Rajaji Government Hospital in Madurai administer him the first shot of Covid-19 vaccine in Tamil Nadu on Saturday. Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, we were told, had just inaugurated the vaccination drive in the state.
But why didn’t the chief minister or deputy chief minister O Pannerselvam or health minister C Vijayabaskar, who were present at the ‘inaugural’, take the vaccine? The chief minister explained: “I will soon be taking it; this round is for doctors and frontline workers.” He was right. In a video conference with chief ministers last Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said politicians should not jump the queue for the Covid-19 vaccines. Earlier he said around three crore healthcare workers and frontline workers would be vaccinated in the first phase, and those above 50 years of age and people with comorbidities would get the shot in the second phase.
Here is a case for the Prime Minister to have a rethink and consider politicians on a par with frontline workers, though they do virtually nothing to fight the pandemic. There are at least two reasons why politicians should take the jab, now.
One, it would be a symbolic gesture to show the vaccines are safe. Against the background of just 16% of ‘beneficiaries’ of the first round of vaccination in Tamil Nadu turning up on Day 1, politicians getting the vaccine shot should not be construed as jumping the queue. In fact, it should be seen as an act of conviction, setting an example (it’s quite another matter that some of our politicians don’t want to “take a chance” till others prove the vaccine is safe).
Look at this list of world leaders who have shown the way: US President-elect Joe Biden, vice-president-elect Kamala Harris, Queen Elizabeth (94) and Prince Philip (99), Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Pope Francis and former Pope Benedict. Haryana health minister Anil Vij is probably the only prominent Indian politician to do the symbolic act by participating in the Covaxin trial, but two weeks later he tested positive for the virus. That could well be because Vij was given a placebo — a standard procedure during double-blind trials when neither the one giving the injection nor the one taking it knows if it is a real vaccine or a placebo.
Two, going beyond symbolism, our politicians deserve it. They interact closely with hundreds, if not thousands, of people every day, especially in poll-bound states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bengal, Assam and Puducherry. Top leaders of all political parties have been travelling across the state. It is not only in the politicians’ interests, it is also for the safety of all those people who gather around them during the pre-poll campaign that these party leaders should be vaccinated.
Even while using long-tested vaccines, health experts are concerned about what they call AEFI (adverse event following immunization), for which the vaccine is not always the cause. In some cases, AEFI symptoms could be psychological. On a mildly lighter note, a third reason why our politicians should be inoculated is the remote possibility of an AEFI of a different kind (adorable event following immunisation). What if at least some of them, as a side effect of the vaccine, turn into what they claim to be: honest, selfless, caring and transparent? Voila!
Views expressed above are the author’s own.