New Delhi, Apr 24 (PTI) The Congress highlighted a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in the country on Saturday with party leader Rahul Gandhi asking the Centre to focus on the issue, instead of 'spending on PR and unnecessary projects'.
Pointing out that only 1.4 per cent of the country's population has been vaccinated so far, Gandhi, in a tweet, said 'India needs vaccines' and shared a graph showing that the US has vaccinated 26.5 per cent of its population and the UK 15.9 per cent.
In another tweet, he asked the Centre to focus on vaccines, oxygen and other health services amid the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of 'spending on PR and unnecessary projects'.
'This crisis will deepen in the coming days. The country has to be prepared to deal with this. The current plight is unbearable!' the former Congress chief said.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram also pointed towards the shortage of vaccines and warned the government of more protests if people were turned away by hospitals.
He welcomed the decision to vaccinate all citizens above the age of 18 years from May 1.
'However, we have to caution the government that this decision brings with it huge responsibilities,' the former Union minister wrote on Twitter.
'The government is standing (not helplessly) and silently endorsing the blatant profiteering and exploitation by the two manufacturers. Why is the government not invoking the provision of 'compulsory licensing'? 'Will those who justified the COVISHIELD prices of Rs 400 and 600 also justify the COVAXIN prices of Rs 600 and 1200 announced today?' he asked in a series of tweets.
Another Congress leader Jairam Ramesh raised questions over the differential pricing of vaccines for the Centre and the states.
'Deferential to Centre. Differential to States. SII recently said Rs 400 is new price for ALL new govt procurements -- States and Centre. What's the truth? States have to buy from SII at Rs 400 ($5.30) -- Highest in the World -- for Made in India vaccine. Why?' he asked.
'COVISHIELD at Rs 400 for new govt procurement is higher than what govts of US, UK, EU, Saudi, Bangladesh & SA pay. Made in India & highest price for India? By SII's own admission profits are made even at Rs 150. Prices must be renegotiated,' the former Union minister wrote on Twitter.
The health ministry, however, clarified, saying, 'It is clarified that Govt of India's procurement price for both COVID19 vaccines remains Rs 150 per dose. GOI procured doses will continue to be provided TOTALLY FREE to States.' Ramesh said a report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare had pointed out in November 2020 that 'there is a strong need to ensure oxygen inventory and that prices are controlled'. It had also pointed towards the affordability and availablility of oxygen cylinders at all hospitals.
'Shortage of Oxygen in hospitals across the country is an UNMITIGATED MAN-MADE DISASTER! 'Standing Committee on Health in report presented to RS Chairman on 21.11.2020, recommended Modi Govt to 'encourage adequate production of Oxygen' to meet needs of hospitals. Why wasn't it done?' he asked on the microblogging website.
Congress leader Ajay Maken also claimed that the Centre ignored the recommendations made by the parliamentary panel in its report that talked about a possible shortage of oxygen and asked the government to prepare.
Chidambaram said the first and foremost requirement right now is availability of vaccines, adding that there are widespread complaints about a lack of their supply.
'The government's claim that there is no shortage of vaccines is hollow and untrue,' he said.
'When the surge in demand happens on May 1 and more people flock to hospitals for vaccination, will there be adequate stocks of vaccines all over the country?' Chidambaram asked. 'If people are turned away at hospitals, there will be great resentment and protests,' he said.
The Congress leader said the time to plan for May 1 had started many weeks ago, wondering whether the government was prepared for it.
'I am sceptical. Nevertheless, I urge the government to start preparing NOW in order to meet the much greater demand for vaccines on and after May 1,' he said.
All citizens above 18 years of age will be eligible for vaccination against the coronavirus from May 1, after the Centre announced its liberalised vaccine policy. Currently, only those above 45 years of age are eligible to get the vaccine. PTI SKC RC