Resetting India’s Covid-19 Vaccine Policy
After a lot of hue and cry from various quarters, especially Opposition parties and non-BJP ruling states, the government of India decided to take over 25 per cent procurement of Covid-19 vaccines that was earlier handed over to states. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Monday that from June 21 onwards, the Centre will provide free vaccines to the states for all citizens above the age of 18 years. “The Government of India itself will buy 75 per cent of the total vaccine production from vaccine manufacturers and give it to the state governments free of cost,” he said, adding that people of 18 years of age will also become part of it. While allowing private hospitals to procure 25 per cent of the vaccine, the government also capped the price at INR 150 per dose as service charge. It was a welcome move from the Centre and a much-needed correction after vaccination drive was badly hit across the country after it issued new vaccine procurement policy which came into effect earlier last month. The policy worked against the government’s ambitious programme to immunise all its citizens in an attempt to defeat the dreaded disease that has wreaked havoc across the globe. The decision to make states and private hospitals strike deals with vaccine manufacturing companies was not successful. Attempts made by some states to procure vaccines directly from foreign countries proved to be futile. This policy in a way pitted states against each other in the competition to procure vaccines. Several states were forced to suspend vaccination for the 18-44 age group due to shortage of vaccines and the Supreme Court too expressed its dissatisfaction over the new policy. Despite the initial hiccup, the Centre deserves appreciation for paying heed to criticism and reversing its policy. It’s latest move should now end the chaos and accelerate inoculation drive in the country.
Now that the Centre has decided to take up the task of providing free vaccines to all the citizens, the ball is in the court of the states- to ensure that all the eligible persons get the jabs. According the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, as many as 23.27 crore vaccine doses have been administered so far, but a massive ramp up in procurement of jabs is needed to inoculate all citizens. States, on its part, should work on ways to make Covid vaccination drive a success. The states have dual fights at hand- the virus and vaccine hesitancy that hampered the central government’s ambitious programme during the initial stage of vaccine rollout. A few months of complacency cost the country dearly, allowing the second wave of the pandemic to wreak havoc. We cannot afford to lower our guards this time; instead, we should guard against the virus with vaccine.