The Union government seems to have “no sense of urgency or clear strategy” for its vaccination policy for India, “in spite of knowing fully well that vaccination is the only way out of this pandemic,” Telangana Minister KT Rama Rao said on Sunday, June 4. He was taking questions on Twitter and invited users to use #AskKTR and #LetsTalkVaccination to direct questions to him. During the day, KTR announced on Twitter that he has been receiving a lot of questions, comments and suggestions about the vaccination drive in India and so asked people to join for an interactive session on social media at 7:30 pm on Sunday. During the session, KTR addressed the gap between the vaccine demand and the vaccine supply, and questioned the government for not being prepared for the vaccination drive.
‘Where is my vaccine?’
To a user’s question asking him “where is my vaccine,” KTR tweeted, “Ask Govt of India that bungled up & created this situation where states are pitted against one another & against pvt sector. They didn’t place orders when they had to & even now don’t want to call for a single tender for the entire country (sic).”
As per India’s liberalised vaccination policy, the Union government has created a quota of 50:25:25 for the 18-44 age group — 50% of the COVID-19 vaccines will be used by the Union government to vaccinate those above 45,, 25% for state and union territory governments for the vaccination of 18-44 age group, and 25% will be procured directly by private hospitals.
“When the states reach out to vaccine manufacturers, they are clearly saying they would rather deal with one entity; Govt of India, who unfortunately seems to have no urgency to go for a global procurement & supply to all Indian states (sic),” KTR said, responding to the question in another tweet.
‘Government of India woke up late’
"Why is there a demand - supply gap when India is the vaccines hub? Lot of questions on this. While all other countries were placing orders for vaccines back in first half of 2020, Govt of India woke up late. Our orders were placed in Jan 2021,” KTR said. He gave the examples of other countries that had secured vaccine orders in 2020 itself, and pointed out that during this time, India was concentrating on exporting vaccines.
“Another instance I would like to highlight; Inordinate delay in approvals: Pfizer had sought authorisation for its vaccine in India late 2020. DCGI gave exemption from bridging trials in June 1st Week, 2021. Wonder what took so long,” he added.
The Telangana Minister said that the government should start a dialogue with countries which have an unused supply of vaccines. “There are more than 50 Crore unused doses of Astra Zeneca vaccine (called Covishield in India) in various countries; United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway Govt of India needs to start a dialogue immediately & procure these asap & allot to states,” he said.
‘Government was promoting vaccine exports’
“The US in May 2020 secured 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine but didn’t use this much under this vaccination programme. Countries like Norway, Denmark & Canada had ordered significant quantities of Astrazeneca vaccine. Counting up all vaccine deals per capita, Canada has procured nearly nine doses per person. While all of this was happening, Govt of India was pushing Vaccine Maitri & promoting vaccine exports from India,” the Minister of IT in Telangana said.
He also addressed questions on the price difference in vaccines procured by the Union government and those procured by private hospitals. He also said there is no information on where the Union government spent funds from the Rs 35,000 vaccine package announced in the Union Budget for 2021-22, pointing out that if India needs to vaccinate 100 percent of its population, it needs 272 crore doses at Rs 150 each.
KTR lists factors that affected vaccine rollout
“Misplaced priorities, Not placing the orders at the right time, exporting vaccines when they should have stocked up, centralising procurement, not allowing vaccines like Pfizer, J&J early on,” are some of the things that affected the vaccine rollout in the country, he said.
“Different prices per different entities have been permitted by Govt of India. For Centre ₹150 & they take 85% of all vaccine produced. In the remaining 15% states & pvt hospitals have to compete. For states, Covishield is priced at ₹300 & Covaxin at ₹400. Pvt hospitals can get Covishield at ₹600 & Covaxin at ₹1200. When it comes to competing in this 15% availability, how can states compete with pvt sector at this pricing? That’s why you see the procurement being a challenge (sic),” he said in a series of tweets.
KTR also said the government’s vaccine policy has only pitted states against one another. While responding to a question why the government cannot rope in the pharmaceutical companies that are based in Telangana, KTR said, “Unfortunately all their production is being closely monitored by Govt of India who is taking 85% production. In the remaining 15% we have to compete with other states & hospitals who buy at three times the rate. Guess who they would prefer selling to? (sic)”
‘No response to Telangana’s global tenders’
When a Twitter user, Faizan Farooqui, asked KTR about when he thought Telangana would be fully vaccinated, the Minister replied that the state government is doing its best but that the global tenders floated by the state government had evoked no response. TNM had reported this earlier, you can read the report here. Earlier, the Director of Health had revealed to the media that the government was in discussions with two companies and that a positive outcome is expected from the negotiations.
The Minister added that the state has the ability to vaccinate more than 10 lakh people a day but added that constraints on vaccine supplies are hampering the brisk progress.