Covid Crisis: Change Vaccine Policy to Avert Third Wave

Jacob Peenikaparambil: Many experts on the Coronavirus are of the view that expediting vaccination is the most effective step to defeat the deadly virus, and as many Indians are to be vaccinated at earliest.  But the vaccination drive has been seriously hampered by the policy adopted by the Central government since April 21, 2021.

According to the government policy, purchase of vaccines for the age group of 18-44 is the responsibility of the state governments. The Centre will bear the cost of the vaccination for the age group above 45 and health care workers as well as front line workers through the government vaccination centres. With regard to the supply side, the two vaccine producers in India, Serum SSI and Bharat Biotech will be selling 50% of their vaccine production to the Central government at the rate of Rs. 150/- per dose and the remaining 50% will be available to the state governments and private hospitals at the price decided by the producers.

The vaccine policy of the Central government is confusing and complicated. Many state governments have floated global tenders for acquiring vaccines. But no state government has so far succeeded in getting assurance from any company for the supply of vaccines. There is unnecessary competition among the states to buy vaccines from the Indian producers. Hence they have expressed the difficulties they face in acquiring vaccines from foreign companies as well as from the Indian vaccine producers, and they have requested the Centre to acquire vaccines and make them available to them. US pharmaceutical firms, Moderna and Pfizer, have refused to send supplies of their Covid vaccines directly to Punjab and Delhi, saying that according to their official policy, the companies will deal only with the Government of India. A group of retired civil servants in an open letter to the PM on 18th May demanded free, universal Covid 19 vaccinations to all Indian citizens.

Most of the states are complaining about shortage of vaccines, but the Union health minister continues to reaffirm availability of enough vaccines in the country.  Delhi suspended on 23rd May vaccination for the age group between 18 and 45 due to the shortage of vaccines. Delhi chief minister, Kejriwal has requested the Central government to purchase vaccines from the producers and make them available to the states.

As per the media reports, the daily average of vaccinations administered in May (until May 19) was 16,85,000. Till May 24, 2021 only 3.1% of the total Indian population was fully vaccinated whereas in America, 39.6% of the population was fully vaccinated. According to a report published in The Hindu, at the current rate it will take two and half years to vaccinate 75% of India’s population. Hence ramping up the supply of vaccines is the biggest challenge before the Central government.

Against the backdrop of the confusing scenario, the Central government should take the responsibility of acquiring vaccines from different sources, both foreign and Indian, and making them available to the states. India is the only country in the world where the states are given the responsibility of purchasing Covid vaccines, and this has to change. It is ideal to provide free vaccination to the whole population of India.  States should be given the freedom regarding the dynamics of vaccination process to different age groups and the methods of providing vaccination. If immediate steps are not taken to ramp up the vaccination process, the people of India may have to bear the brunt of the third wave of Covid 19.

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