The Telangana government has announced free Covid vaccinations for people across all eligible age groups with an estimated budget of Rs 2,500 crore earmarked to vaccinate over 4 crore beneficiaries. The State government officials say the free vaccination scheme will be doled out both in government and private hospitals. Eligible beneficiaries aged 18 and above, can start registering themselves on Co-WIN portal, or Aarogya Setu app, from April 28.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao on Saturday announced the State government's plans and said: "I will monitor the vaccination drive and ensure all get it. We will give free vaccines to all and officials are on the job."
Telengana's move came just after several other States, including Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala announced their plans to go ahead with free vaccinations for all eligible age groups.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat has also said the inoculation drive will be free for all adults in the hill State.
The Andhra Pradesh government on Friday announced the free vaccinations for all aged 18 and above. In Andhra, more than 2 crore people will be direct beneficiaries of the free vaccination drive and earmarked Rs 1,600 crore for the purpose. Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy also spoke to Bharat Biotech's Managing Director Dr Krishna Ella, requesting more Covaxin doses for the State, however, the number of vaccine doses that Jagan has asked for is unclear.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has also reiterated his government's plan last week to provide free vaccination in the State.
In the current immunisation programme, Telangana has already vaccinated over 38 lakh beneficiaries including frontline and healthcare workers, and people above the age of 45. Now, in the wake of the latest decision, those who are waiting to receive their first or second dose will now be covered under the State government’s free vaccination programme. However, the State government is yet to put out details on the number of doses it has decided to procure from vaccine manufacturers.
Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, who is currently recovering from Coronavirus, held a meeting where he assured there would be no vaccine shortage as the State government has already reached out to Covaxin-maker Bharat Biotech and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories which will be manufacturing Russian-made vaccine Sputnik V. Both Bharat Biotech and Dr Reddy’s are based out of Hyderabad.
State Govt’s Action Plan
The District Medical Health Officers are instructed to create awareness among people who are still reluctant to get vaccinated. The government is also planning to rope in every village-level hospital to maximise the vaccination drive. The additional vaccination centres designated by the government have been directed to enroll themselves on the Co-WIN platform before May 1.
In the present scheme of things due to limited resources, the Telangana government has been able to distribute vaccines to only 1,400 hospitals, both in government and private. The vaccination drive in the State is being conducted on all days including public holidays, however, most private hospitals in Hyderabad have been turning away beneficiaries due to the shortage of vaccines. In a bid to prevent a situation like this starting May 1, the Telangana government is planning to procure over 2 crore vaccine doses in a staggered manner.
Row Over ‘Dual-Price’ Policy
Earlier this week, Telangana’s Municipal Minister KT Rama Rao lashed out at the Union government, questioning why State governments have to shell out Rs 400 a vial to buy a vaccine, while it is being sold for Rs 150 to the Central government.
KTR tweeted, "One Nation – Two different Vaccine Prices?" He asked the Centre to offset the expenses by using the PM Cares Fund to help States scale up vaccination drives across the country.
While the State government has set aside a budget of Rs 2,500 crore conservatively, the actual expense will depend on the rates announced by the vaccine manufacturers. As of now, only Serum Institute of India, which produces Covishield in association with AstraZeneca, has put out its market price of Rs 400 a dose for the State government and Rs 600 a dose for the private entities.
Experts believe that the State government’s expense will shoot up if other vaccine manufacturers decide to sell a dose for Rs 500 or above. The existing budget of Rs 2,500 crore has been set assuming the cost of each vaccine would be around Rs 400, which would entail an expense of Rs 800 a person.
Meanwhile, the Central government has reiterated that it will continue to procure both Covishield and Covaxin for Rs 150 a dose and provide for free to all States.