By Dr. Gyan Pathak
The new phase of vaccination kicked in on June 21, 2021 in India under the Modified Vaccine Policy making a record of inoculating 82.7 lakh shots in one day, but the pace cannot be maintained in July next month. It could be reduced to even below half mark. Even sources in the helm of affair at the Centre expect to reach at an average of 45 lakh shots per day. Impediments are still felt under Modified vaccine policy, needing further modification at the earliest to achieve the target of vaccinating all within the shortest possible time.
The vaccine policy in the country has all along been carrying PM Narendra Modi’s stamp in it, and hence in this sense of the term can be said ‘Modified’ vaccine policy. It had inherent policy defects from the beginning which necessitated several modifications, after which we have got the latest policy under which the Centre will procure 75 per cent of the vaccine stock from the open market and distribute it to the states for administering free of cost to everyone of age 18 years and above at the government vaccination centres.
The ‘Modified’ vaccine policy had to be modified recently because of the faulty rationale of the Centre which was severely criticized not only by the opposition political parties and well informed experts and common people but also by the Supreme Court of India. Under the target was the decentralization of the vaccine drive under the highly centralised guidelines and control creating numerous impediments on the way including price anarchy. The earlier centralized version of vaccination policy was decentralized from May 1 allegedly in a bid to absolve the Centre’s responsibility and transfer it to the fund starved states. The earlier centralized policy was in operation right from the launch of the vaccination drive on January 16, 2021. The recentralized version of the vaccine policy has come into effect from June 21.
Under the recentralized vaccine policy, India returned to centralized procurement and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The Centre will procure 75 per cent of the vaccine stock and thus will leave 25 per cent for others, such as private hospitals and non-government vaccination centres, which can levy a service charge of Rs 150 over and above the price of the vaccines. It may be mentioned that the rates of vaccines for the private and non-government vaccination facilities are still fixed in the range of Rs 600 to Rs 1100 per dose, who in turn charging the people anything they want to.
It has been reported that some of the hospitals and centres are charging even above Rs 1800 per dose. One of the allegations against the Modi government was that it supported the profiteers and corporates, which had opened the door for vaccine manufacturers to sell 50 per cent of their production to the states and private institutions at pre-decided prices. The centre was procuring the vaccines at Rs 150 per dose and the rate for the states were Rs 300 and above. The centre has withdrawn profiteering from the states but not from others, which is still not a good policy.
No one should be allowed to charge exorbitant rates from even a person with money. As for 25 per cent of the doses set aside for moneyed people is wrong because it is an inequitable distribution between haves and have-nots. The Haves will have advantage of having surplus doses in hand while Have-nots will have disadvantage of heavy scarcity of doses. It would distort the much required equitable supply of vaccines for all irrespective of their financial status. It may slow the speed of vaccination, which has already been feared on account of various reasons including this one.
It should be always kept in mind at all level of planning and implementation that the vaccine remains our strongest weapon to fight COVID-19, as PM Modi has rightly said. However, he is mistaken at setting aside 25 per cent doses of those who have money enough to spare, as if we have 25 per cent of moneyed people in the country left even after the economic devastation on account of COVID-19 impact and improper policy response. As per latest poverty estimates number of poor in India has trebled in just one and half year of the pandemic.
The first day’s record vaccination under the new policy framework definitely shows the hard work of our front-line corona warriors and professional engaged in vaccination. However, their enthusiasm needs to be maintained and encouraged by appropriate policies and implementations process. The said record was achieved chiefly because of increased vaccine supply to the states after the new guidelines went into force as well as an increase in the number of free vaccines sites. The centre had supplied 2.95 crore doses to the states where at present around 80,000 government vaccinations centres are operational. Officials have admitted that the spike in vaccination numbers should be seen within the “framework of availability” of vaccines
It indicates that production, procurement, and supply of vaccines to the beneficiary’s end remains a challenging task, though the production capacity of domestic vaccine manufacturers have been considerable increase along with permission to import other vaccine candidates. Supply of vaccines and inoculation therefore need better handling along at a time when ‘artificial categorisation’ related impediments have been done away with. It is good that prior appointment through website is not now necessarily required and one can go and take vaccines on-site, but it can increase load on vaccination staff due to overcrowding. It needs to be carefully handled. Vaccine hesitancy is still an issue. States need to focus of planning and execution of vaccination coverage.
Centre must assure availability of vaccination doses to all states on equitable basis, and there should not be any politics in this regards. A cursory look at the first day record suggests that over half of the doses were administered in either BJP or NDA ruled states – Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Bihar. The other states seem to be finding themselves in difficulty in implementing the drive on account of several reasons including lack of funds and capacity constraints, and hence need more help from the Centre. (IPA Service)