Pfizer sought the Indian regulator’s nod for emergency-use authorisation for its mRNA vaccine.
The Pune-based Serum Institute of India has approached the regulator for a similar nod for its vaccine, Covishield, developed by Oxford University.
Unlike Pfizer, AstraZeneca, which is carrying out the phase-3 trials of the Oxford vaccine in four countries, is yet to secure a nod from any of the regulatory agencies.
But this is not without cause for concern at a time when governments are putting pressure on regulatory bodies to fast-track the entire process.
Lack of transparency about vaccine safety and efficacy does no good in gaining people’s confidence and willingness to get vaccinated.
The sooner a vaccine is available, the better it is for everyone, but pushing through an ineffective or unsafe vaccine is worse than not having one.
While the Indian government is aware of vaccine hesitancy among a certain section of people, the concerns are best addressed when all stakeholders are transparent at every stage and not by merely sharing guidelines regarding vaccine safety with the States.
It is important that those seeking emergency-use authorisation share the safety and efficacy data immediately.
West Asian outreach | Pioneer
The visit of Army Chief, General MM Naravane, to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) should be welcomed by all who are keen for India’s relations with the Arab world to improve.
The most dramatic improvement of ties in the past six-and-a-half years has been with the Arab world.
Many Arab nations normalise their relationship with Israel
Relation of Pakistan with Saudi and UAE has deteriorated in recent past.
Saudi Arabia is upset with Pakistan switching allegiance to Turkey.
The Saudis went so far as to recall a major loan from Pakistan and UAE stopped issuing visas to Pakistani citizens.
India will also need to thread a tightrope – Saudi + UAE have bitter relations with Iran and Qatar.
India has to maintain amicable relations with all sides because of both commercial and military reasons.
India’s improved relations with West Asia are here to stay for the medium-term with major nations having political stability.
There’s a new-found respect diplomatically after we held off China.
Besides, India continues to provide skilled manpower to Arab nations.
Of course, there is the challenge of how the incoming US administration will treat the area but one expects more of the same.
Ranjitsinh Disale | Tribune
In honouring Ranjitsinh Disale, the passionate teacher of a primary government school at a village in Maharashtra, from among thousands of candidates from the world over for the $1-million Global Teacher Prize 2020, a private foundation, partnered by UNESCO, has been spot on.
Indeed, the devotion with which the 32-year-old educator has been working on his vision of promoting education among the category of students most in need of a push in India — the underprivileged and girls — is a rarity and worthy of recognition.
Realising that language was the major hurdle in the humble setting, Disale used his creative and scientific mindset to ensure that the poor pupils did not suffer.
He translated the textbooks into their mother tongue and embedded the books with unique QR codes to give students access to audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments.
With this, the twin challenges of our society were taken care of: his school boasted of 100 per cent attendance of girls and the village recorded zero teenage marriage.
Not resting on local laurels, Disale has been using international online platforms to connect young people with the aim of advocating peace across conflict zones in India and Pakistan, Palestine and Israel, Iraq and Iran, and the US and North Korea.
Through another project, he helps students from schools lacking in resources by taking them on virtual field trips.
Even in receiving the coveted award, the teacher has set a new ‘teach, don’t preach’ goal: Disale has announced that he would share half of his reward money with the other finalists to support their ‘incredible work’.
With such exemplary people and their inspiring acts, as the foundation rightly said, there is yet hope for a safe tomorrow, one that will better tackle critical problems like climate change, conflict and pandemics.
Rebuilding from debris | TH
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has officially secured enough certified results across States to cross the critical threshold of 270 electors in the Electoral College.
Mr. Biden, who, at 78, will have to work tirelessly toward two goals:
To undo the damage done over four years to domestic and international institutions, alliances, and strategic goal
To heal the bitter polarisation of American politics along partisan lines, a phenomenon that appeared to peak through the harsh Trump years.
At the top of the domestic policy agenda will be combating the catastrophic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., which has recorded the most infection cases globally and the highest fatalities too.
The science-driven policy that Mr. Biden has promised to follow must be expediently put into action, for everything from mask-wearing mandates to an effective vaccine distribution plan.
The economy will be a close second, requiring even more stimulus packages, backed by Congress, that kick-start the flagging job market and incentivise businesses to start humming with activity again.
On the international front, Mr. Biden is likely to use his first 100 days in office to explore what options there are to re-join WHO and the Paris climate change agreement.
He is also likely to train his guns on immigration reform.
That could well include lifting Mr. Trump’s executive orders restricting the issuance of new skilled worker visas and green cards, as well as limits on entry for students at universities offering mainly online courses.
Obama-years policy of “catch and release”, and the border wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for will be indefinitely shelved.
Yet none of these reversals of Mr. Trump’s policies will matter if Mr. Biden does not proactively seek to build bipartisan consensus in Congress and across the country.
The fact that the U.S. was riven by hateful discourse from both sides of the political spectrum throughout the 2020 campaign suggests that Mr. Biden will have to work overtime to heal the wounds inflicted on a nation that at times appears to be at war with itself.
A ‘duet’ for India’s urban women
The COVID-19 crisis has drawn attention to the insecurities that haunt the lives of the urban poor.
Generally, they are less insecure than the rural poor, partly because fallback work is easier to find in urban areas — if only pulling a rickshaw or selling snacks.
Still, the urban poor are exposed to serious contingencies, both individual (such as illness and underemployment) and collective (lockdowns, floods, cyclones, financial crises and so on).
Universalising the Public Distribution System in urban slums would be a step forward (and it can be done under the National Food Security Act), but foodgrain rations do not take people very far.
Employment-based support is one way of doing more.
generating valuable assets or services
There has been much discussion, in recent months, of a possible urban employment guarantee act.
Decentralised Urban Employment and Training (DUET)
The government, State or Union, would issue “job stamps”, each standing for one day of work at the minimum wage.
The job stamps would be liberally distributed to approved public institutions such as universities, hostels, schools, hospitals, health centres, museums, libraries, shelters, jails, offices, departments, railway stations, transport corporations, public-sector enterprises, neighbourhood associations and urban local bodies.
These institutions would be free to use the stamps to hire labour for odd jobs and small projects that do not fit easily within their existing budgets and systems.
Wages, paid by the government, would go directly to the workers’ accounts against job stamps certified by the employer.
To avoid collusion, an independent placement agency would take charge of assigning workers to employers.
This approach would have various advantages: activating a multiplicity of potential employers, avoiding the need for special staff, facilitating productive work, among others.
It would also ensure that workers have a secure entitlement to minimum wages, and possibly other benefits.
There is no dearth of possible DUET jobs.
Further, many States have a chronic problem of dismal maintenance of public premises — DUET could provide a first line of defence against it.
Some projects may require a modest provision for material expenditure, but that seems doable.
To work well, DUET would have to include some skilled workers (masons, carpenters, electricians and such).
That would widen the range of possible jobs.
It would also help to impart a training component in the scheme — workers could learn skills “on the job”, as they work alongside skilled workers.
Roping in skilled workers, however, will take some effort: they tend to get a fair amount of work in urban areas, and to earn relatively good wages.
As long as women workers are available, they get all the work.
In fact, women could also run the placement agencies, or the entire programme for that matter.
A part-time employment option would be attractive for many poor women in urban areas.
Wage employment for a few hours a day would be much easier to manage.
Remember, the economic dependence of women on men is one of the prime roots of gender inequality and female oppression in India.
India has one of the lowest rates of female workforce participation in the world.
According to National Sample Survey data for 2019, only 20% of urban women in the age group of 15-59 years spend time in “employment and related activities” on an average day.
This is a loss not only for women, who live at the mercy of men, but also for society as a whole, insofar as it stifles the productive and creative potential of almost half of the adult population.
Investing in India’s youth | TH
With the largest youth population in the world, India faces the difficult task of educating every citizen to become a productive member of society.
This goal has become harder with the pandemic.
Education can play a vital role in bridging this gap.
India’s Right to Education Act guarantees free and compulsory education for the ages of 6 to 14 years, and is based on books and written examinations.
However, evidence shows that many people develop 21st century skills on the job, or from courses that focus on practical application of skills.
This indicates that vocational education can be a route for many to gain specific skillsets and knowledge which they can directly apply in their jobs.
Such education formats are referred to as Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).
The National Skill Development Policy was launched in 2009 and revamped in 2015, recognising the challenge of skilling with speed and high standards.
The Skill India Mission was launched soon after, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his vision for making India the “skill capital” of the world.
UNESCO’s State of the Education Report for India 2020, published this week, focuses on vocational education and training and showcases the growth of the skills development sector, along with emerging challenges.
One of the biggest challenges for expanding the reach of TVET-related courses has been the lack of aspiration and stigma attached to jobs such as carpentry and tailoring.
Considerable effort, including information campaigns involving youth role models, would go a long way in improving the image of vocational education.
Research is now proving that TVET graduates for entry level jobs can get paid as much as university graduates, and for some jobs can even surpass them.
Moreover, students from vocational streams typically take less time to find jobs as compared to university graduates.
Considering that many employers are unable to find skilled candidates for jobs, promoting skills development and hiring skilled workers can make the economy stronger.
The new National Education Policy (NEP) aims to provide vocational education to 50% of all learners by 2025.
Schools are encouraged to provide students access to vocational education from Grade 6 onwards and to offer courses that are aligned to the local economies and can benefit local communities.
This will be possible only if the existing skills development systems are leveraged effectively.
Hence, for the vision of the NEP to be fulfilled, a robust coordination mechanism for inter-ministerial cooperation is necessary for bringing the skills development and vocational education systems together.
In these difficult times, TVET is certainly a key tool to help get the economy, and people’s lives, back on track.
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