Modi said that his government had dealt with the challenges of resources on a war footing to deal with a “once in a century” pandemic.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday announced that the nation would revert to the system of centralised procurement of vaccines against COVID-19, with 25% of procurement kept open for the private sector, and that this system would be operationalised from June 21.
In a televised broadcast to the country, Mr. Modi cited several chief ministers’ letters demanding the same. He declared a cap of ₹150 on the amount private hospitals could charge over the cost of the purchase of the vaccine from the manufacturer. He also announced the extension of the free ration distribution scheme to 80 crore beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana till Diwali in November.
Expressing grief at the loss of life, especially during the massive second wave of the pandemic that has hit the country, he said the government had dealt with the challenges of resources on a war footing to deal with a “once in a century” pandemic. “Never in 100 years, has there been such a pandemic, and this saw an unprecedented demand for medical oxygen across the country. We pressed the government, railways, Army, the Air Force, Navy and other wings into service to procure medical oxygen and other medicines required in our fight against the COVID19 pandemic,” he noted.
Defends govt actions
At the receiving end of much criticism over vaccine shortages, the Prime Minister defended his government’s record and capacity, saying, “When we were first elected in 2014, we found that vaccine coverage under the universal immunisation programme was around 60% and we quickly launched ‘Mission Indradhanush’ to not only increase the coverage but also add other vaccines to improve the health of our children. When COVID-19 hit, our scientists got to work to develop a vaccine to deal with the disease and the Government of India set up a vaccine task force in April 2020 itself and provided logistical support, funds and other encouragement to our scientists and manufactures. And by the end of the year, we had two made in India vaccines”.
He said, “We launched the vaccination drive against COVID-19 on January 16 and kept to the guidelines provided by WHO and best practices of other countries. We prioritised our health care and front line workers, elderly and those with comorbidities. It doesn’t bear thinking what would have happened in the second wave if our front line workers had not been vaccinated. After some time, a view started to gain ground that the Centre should not be procuring vaccines all by itself, that health was a state subject and that a one-size fits all solution was wrong. Some media houses ran a campaign to this effect as well. So, we announced that from May 1, 25% of all procurement for the vaccination programme would be done by State governments. Many tried and came up against many challenges that the Centre had managed to overcome, dealing with manufacturers, pricing etc. Then a few days back, many States said that reverting to the old system was better.”
“We will be reverting to the old system where the Centre can procure upto 75% of the doses of vaccines and it will provide them free to state governments, even for the age group 18-44,” he said. “Those who want to go to private facilities, that too will be allowed, as private institutions can procure 25% of vaccines from manufacturers, but there will be a cap of ₹150 per dose as service charge over the cost of the vaccine”, he said.
Mr. Modi expressed the optimism that more vaccine candidates would be available in the country in the future, including a nasal vaccine that is under development. Trials of vaccines for children were also going on in the country, he pointed out and urged people to spike rumours over vaccines and encourage as many people as possible to take the vaccine.
The battle over vaccine procurement had been raging for the last couple of months between the Centre and the States. It is left to be seen how the State governments view this reversal of policy, much of it laid at their door, in terms of their failure to procure vaccines.