By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of providing free vaccine for all adults of India has certainly solved a cross section of the problems of vaccination in the country for which he has been praised and thanked even though these were his own creation. Nevertheless, the government would need to take follow-up actions in the right earnest to accomplish the target of vaccinating all within the stipulated time frame.
People should appreciate that their prime minister has ultimately condescended into rectifying some of the errors of his earlier decisions whatever may be the reasons behind it – whether under pressure of criticism by opposition political parties, people in general, or the Supreme Court of India and other courts, apart from civil society. However, merely a favourable appreciation will not do the magic on the ground unless the government takes certain other decisions regarding production, procurement, and distribution of vaccines in sufficient quantity in time across the country. Then there will be a need to sort out certain operational problems of inoculation as well as of right policy decisions during scarcity of vaccines.
In his address to the nation on June 7, PM Modi has announced yet again a centralised COVID-19 policy, which his government had decentralised from May 1, 2021. The Centre had abdicated its responsibility and allowed Indian vaccine manufacturing companies to sell 50 percent of their production to states, private hospitals, and others at a pre-decided price. The decision had enabled the companies to profiteering who fixed the prices ranging from Rs 300 to Rs 1200 per dose for various categories of consumers. At the same time the cost of vaccines for the centre remained just Rs 150 per dose. It created a price anarchy in the country for which even Supreme Court criticised the government. The latest announcement has solved only this created anarchy. However, many other problems remains unsolved.
Modi said, “Twenty-five per cent of the vaccination work with states will now be handled by the centre, it will be implemented in the coming two weeks. Both State and Centre will work as per new guidelines in the coming two weeks.” The very concept of division of vaccination work between the Centre and the States at 25 and 75 per cent ratio is unacceptable at this moment for too serious a crisis. It may create new problems of coordination between the two. Moreover, any gap in performance and the requirements on the ground level on part of any of the two may defeat the basic purpose of vaccination to all in shortest possible time. The Centre with all the resources, financial and otherwise, in its hand will cater to only 25 per cent while the States are left to do 75 per cent of work with little resources in their hand is not understandable. Centre should have taken the whole responsibility in coordination with the States.
PM Modi has announced that from June 21, all citizens above the age of 18 will get free vaccines, and asserted that vaccine supply would be increased significantly in the country in the coming days. The statement is too vague to have any significance in concrete term. We have already seen how announcements in vague terms regarding production of vaccines since their approval in the first week of January 2021 had lost their face value. Vaccination drive was launched on January 16, but soon the country came to know that the vaccine manufacturing companies did not have capacity to manufacture the vaccines in required quantities. There was short supply of raw material from abroad. Vaccine drive was disrupted due to lack of smooth supply of vaccines in sufficient quantity. Vaccine hesitancy is yet to be overcome. This time production and supply position has been improved but the requirement has jumped manifold due to widening the categories of beneficiary covering all adults. Obviously, the Centre would need much more to do to enhance availability of vaccines on the ground through helping in increasing domestic production and procurement from India and abroad.
The actual inoculation in the time of scarce supply of vaccines will still need prioritization. Special care is needed in this regard. Until now, priorities is decided on two basic principles. First is to prevent overwhelming of health facilities, and the second is to prevent death. It was decided that only those would allow to take vaccines who needed them Most, not those who wanted them. It resulted into spread of the disease through those not inoculated in the infected areas and around defeating both the purposes. The Centre thus clearly needs to change the very orientation of the vaccine policy.
Development of other vaccine candidates in the country is also of paramount importance. PM has said, “Work on producing an intramural vaccine for covid is also happening”. We have been hearing of several vaccine candidates being developed for quite some time, but we have only two. Progress is very slow and one of the reason is the lack of government help and support. The Centre must adopt a proactive role in research and development.
The new announcement has come late but is in the right direction. It would be even better if government rectifies other errors regarding mishandling of the covid-19 crisis of lives and livelihoods. Modi should rectify any mistake in policy and implementation pointed out by anyone including his detractors without making it prestige issue in national interest. (IPA Service)