PM announcing new vaccine procurement policy wouldn’t amount to much unless scarcity is addressed quickly
The very concept of division of vaccination work between the Centre and the states at 25 and 75 per cent ratio too is unacceptable as it may create new problems of coordination between the two
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement of providing free vaccine to all adults of India has certainly solved a cross section of the problems of vaccination in the country, but this was his own creation. Moreover, 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.
The decision may have been taken under pressure of criticism by opposition political parties, people in general, or the Supreme Court of India and other courts, apart from civil society. It would not amount to much, however, 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 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 indulge in profiteering by fixing 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 anarchy created by the Centre itself even as 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 states 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 because the crisis is far too serious. 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 available to them. 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. But 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. The 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. The vaccine drive was disrupted due to lack of smooth supply of vaccines in sufficient quantity. Vaccine hesitancy also played a part.
This time, production and supply position has improved but the requirement has jumped manifold due to widening of 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, priority was decided on two basic principles. The first was to prevent overwhelming of health facilities, and the second was to prevent death.
It was decided that only those would be allowed 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.
The development of other vaccine candidates in the country is also of paramount importance. The 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 till date. The progress on this front 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 Centre also needs to rectify other errors regarding mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis impacting lives and livelihoods. Modi should rectify any mistake in policy and implementation pointed out by anyone including his detractors without making it a prestige issue in national interest.
Views are personal