The central government will provide free vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to all adults across all states from June 21, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday, a significant announcement that pledged to change India's inoculation strategy for maximum and efficient coverage.
WHAT IT MEANS?
The Centre will take over from states, which were supposed to be carrying out about 25% of the country's vaccination work, and continue with its ongoing efforts targeting the 45+ population, and health care and front line workers. In other words, the central government will be responsible for 75% of India's vaccination drive (more on this later) under an upcoming policy. It also means free vaccine for all adults, barring those opting to go to private hospitals.
"For citizens, the Indian government will allot free vaccines to states. Seventy-five per cent of the total vaccines produced by manufacturers will be bought by the Centre and sent to states," Modi said.
Under the existing policy that took effect on May 1, the Centre was responsible for 50% of vaccination coverage. This was aimed only at the 45-plus group, and health care and frontline workers. These groups did not have to pay anything under the centrally sponsored drive. At the same time, from May 1, vaccine-makers could sell 50% of what they produce directly to states (25%) and private players (25%).
The vaccination of the 18-44 population is currently being covered under the drives launched by states and private hospitals
For Bharat Biotech's Covaxin, states have to pay Rs 400 a dose, while private hospitals pay Rs 1,200 a dose. For Serum Institute of India's Covishield, the corresponding figures are Rs 300 and Rs 600. Both of them charge the central government around Rs 150 for one dose.
To be sure, several states announced free vaccination for their citizens to relieve them of the price burden, but local governments still had to procure stocks from manufacturers for their shares. Now, they will not have to shell out anything from their pockets. This eliminates demands over what has come to be known as "one nation, one price" for vaccines. The decision also blunts criticism the Centre was facing over what critics called discriminatory pricing.
Then, there was the question of demand-supply, with several states having alleged that their drives were suffering due to inadequate stocks. Critics argued that the Centre's decision to include all adults in the vaccination policy from May 1 was taken in haste. Several states, meanwhile, floated global tenders for vaccines, but they did not get encouraging response overall.
WHAT ABOUT PRIVATE HOSPITALS?
They will continue to charge beneficiaries, but prices at such facilities could come down. "The system that hospitals in the private sector will procure 25% of the vaccines being made in India will continue. Private hospitals can levy a maximum service charge of Rs 150 over and above the stipulated vaccine prices (per dose). State governments will keep a watch on this process," Modi said. There have been reports that several private hospitals were charging high prices in the absence of a yardstick.
INDIA'S VACCINATION DRIVE
The massive campaign drive began on January 16 for health care workers. It was gradually expanded to accommodate front line workers, and then the population above 60 years and those above 45 years with underlying health conditions, or comorbidities. From April, the comorbidity clause was removed, making all above 45 eligible for the shot. Up till this point, the Centre was sponsoring the entire drive. Finally, on May 1 — when the new policy came into place — India became one of the few countries to open the vaccination drive to all adults.