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 India would revert to a system of centralized procurement of vaccines against COVID-19, with 25% of procurement kept open for private sector, and that this system will be operationalized from June 21. He said this during a televised broadcast to the country and cited letters by chief ministers of several States demanding the same before announcing the decision.
He announced a cap of ₹150 on the amount private hospitals can charge over the cost of the purchase of the vaccine from the manufacturer. He also announced the extension of the free ration distribution scheme for 80 crore beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana till the festival of Diwali, in November.
Expressing grief at the loss of life especially during the massive second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit India, Prime Minister Narendra 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. “Never in a 100 years has been there such a pandemic, and this saw an unprecedented demand for medical oxygen across the country. We pressed the government, railways, army, air force, navy and other wings into service to procure medical oxygen and other medicines required in our fight against the COVID19 pandemic,” he said.
At the receiving end of much criticism over vaccine shortages, Prime Minister Modi defended his government’s record and capacity. “When we were first elected in 2014, we found that vaccine coverage under the universal immunization program was around 60% and we quickly launch ‘Mission Indradhanush’ too not only increase coverage but we added 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, 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, with the result that by the end of the year we have two made in India vaccines,” he said.
“We launched the vaccination drive against COVID-19 on January 16 and kept to guidelines provided by WHO and best practices of other countries. We prioritized our health care and frontline workers, elderly and those with comorbidities. It doesn’t bear thinking what would have happened in the second wave if our frontline workers had not been vaccinated,” he said. “After some time a view started to gain ground that the Center should not be procuring vaccines all by itself, that health was a state subject, that a one size fits all solution was wrong, some media houses ran a campaign to this effect as well , he said. “So, we announced that from May 1, 25% of all procurement for the vaccination program would be done by state governments. Many tried and came up against many challenges that the Center had managed to overcome, dealing with manufacturers, pricing etc. Then a few days back many states said that a reverting to the old system was better,” he said.
“We will be reverting to the old system where the Center can procure up to 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 Rs 150 per dose as service charge over the cost of the vaccine,” he said.
He expressed optimism that more vaccine candidates will be available in the country in the future, include an under development nasal vaccine. He added that trials for vaccines for children were also going on in the country. He urged people to spike rumors 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 Center and the States. It is left to be seen how state governments view this reversal of policy, much of it laid at their door, in terms of state governments’ failure to procure vaccines.