By Dr. Gyan Pathak
India’s booster dose policy announced on April 8 by Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is clearly anti-poor, since de facto they cannot get vaccinated with booster doses against COVID-19, though theoretically they are also eligible to have it at private vaccination centres along with any adult aged 18 years or above.
As per the announcement, all coronavirus vaccine beneficiaries aged 18 years and above, who have completed nine months since the administration of the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine, will now be eligible to get booster doses from April 10 at private vaccination centres. They will be allowed to visit private vaccination centres for their third dose or precaution dose. This facility would be available in all Private Vaccination Centres.
Since this decision of the government excludes availability of the booster or precaution doses in government vaccination centres it can be termed as anti-poor and anti-people, because the entire population of the country have been dependent on getting vaccines since its launch from January 16, 2021. Moreover, despite mismanagement, wrong policies, policies in favour of the private players etc, people faugh for their rights and the Modi government was compelled to vaccinate all the citizen of the country free of cost at government vaccination centres. There was also a time when the centre tried to shed its responsibility and made policies for private vaccination drive which was thwarted by the stiff opposition of the people.
Vaccination drive has to be centred around the government vaccination centres. So far, about 96 per cent of vaccine beneficiaries aged 15 and above have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose while about 83 per cent of them have received both doses. Over 2.4 crore precaution doses have also been administered to healthcare workers, frontline workers, and senior citizens of 60 years and above. Additionally, 45 per cent of beneficiaries aged 12 to 14 years have received the first dose already. Most of these achievements have been accomplished through government vaccination centres.
Not allowing for booster doses at government vaccination doses is now a bad decision in favour of the private players allowing them to derive maximum benefit from even the COVID-19 crisis. The poor people, though eligible to get vaccinated at private vaccination centres, cannot get the booster or precautionary doses because they don’t have enough money to pay.
Moreover, in the last two years of the crisis, common people have already spent their savings and many have become indebted. Getting booster doses for three to five members from the same households will not remain affordable for them. They will therefore simply avoid getting precautionary or booster doses due to paucity of fund in the family which will not only make them vulnerable for further infection but also will in turn make the whole society vulnerable for future mutations of the coronavirus. It would weaken the India’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The effort of shedding its own responsibility by the Modi government in favour of private money making lobbies is therefore unacceptable. More so because new mutants are just emerging in several states and many of them have withdrawn COVID-19 curbs, including the mandatory wearing of masks and social distancing. Centre should also take note of its own warning to five states – Delhi, Maharashtra, Kerala, Mizoram, and Haryana expressing concerns over the recent rise in the COVID-19 cases. The states have also been advised by the centre to monitor the spread of infection and bring down positivity rate.
Vaccination is the chief medical protection against the pandemic and which is being carried on by the state governments. The policies are being decided by the Centre unilaterally and enforced on the state irrespective of the merit or demerit of the decisions. If the states are not allowed to take decisions on even vaccination, what is the use of blaming them for the spread of infection. Moreover, the people cannot be thrown on the private players to be exploited by them, and the government facilities be blocked for booster or precautionary doses.
Though the ongoing free vaccination programme through government vaccination centres for the first, second, and the precaution doses to healthcare workers, frontline workers, and people aged 60 and above will continue and the pace would be accelerated, as per the assurance giver by the Union Ministry of Health, the present decision would severely affect the vaccination process for adults below the age of 60, particularly those who cannot afford the cost. Serum Institute has said that the Covishield precaution dose will be priced at Rs600 per shots for eligible individuals. Bharat Biotech is yet to indicate a price. It is also unacceptable that people should be allowed to be charged over thrice the cost that the government has been paying. In June 2021, the Centre had capped the administration charges of Covishield at Rs150 per dose.
Though the move is seen as an extra step to ensure protection in view of the newly emerged recombinant of Omicron XE, there seems to be another purpose also. The expansion of the ongoing vaccination drive through the present decision will liquidate inventory lying with vaccine manufacturers. It should also be noted that the SII and Bharat Biotech had stopped vaccine production recently because of low demand and product pile-up. The present move may increase their activity for profit. Out of 185 crore doses of vaccines, Covishield of SII accounted for 83.3 per cent while Covaxin of Bharat Biotech accounted for 16 per cent. Obviously, they will bag the profit of the booster dose decision.
The centre has already instructed the private vaccination centres not to charge more than Rs780 for Covishield, Rs1410 for Covaxin and Rs 1145 for Sputnik V including taxes and administration charges of Rs150. Presently, at private vaccination centres Covishield costs Rs600, Covaxin Rs1200 and Sputnik V Rs 948 without GST. Biological E has said that it would price Corbevax at Rs800 per dose without taxes. (IPA Service)