Free Covid-19 vaccines for all, Centre to foot bill
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday declared that the Centre will provide free Covid-19 vaccines to states for the age group of 18-44 years from June 21, spelling out clearly that all the countrymen will now have access to free jabs at government hospitals.
Those who want to pay for the doses can get vaccinated at private hospitals, which can continue to procure 25% of the jabs, said the Prime Minister. However, these hospitals can charge a maximum service fee of Rs 150 for a single dose over and above the fixed price of the vaccine. State governments will be tasked with monitoring it.
Sources said with the change in policy, the Centre’s budgetary expenditure on Covid vaccination would be around Rs 42,000-45,000 crore against the budget estimate of Rs 35,000 crore.
The Centre will buy 75% of jabs from vaccine manufacturers, including 25% of the state quota, and give it for free to the state governments, Modi said in an address to the nation. “No state government will have to spend anything on the vaccine,” he added.
The move on vaccines follows severe criticism of the Centre’s vaccination policy by the Opposition and even the apex court. The Supreme Court recently termed the “paid vaccination policy” for the 18-44 age group as “arbitrary and irrational.” It also asked the Centre to clarify how Rs 35,000 crore earmarked in the latest Budget for jabs procurement was being spent and why the money could not be utilised for vaccinating persons in the 18-44 age group. The court was also critical of dual pricing of the vaccines (to the Centre and states).
The Prime Minister said seven companies are producing various vaccines in the country and trial of three more jabs is at an advanced stage. The process of procuring vaccines from overseas manufacturers has also been expedited.
Amid apprehensions that children are increasingly getting affected by the coronavirus, the Prime Minister said trials of two vaccines for kids are being undertaken.
The country’s vaccination drive can also get a significant boost, if the ongoing research on a nasal spray vaccine succeeds, he said.
The Prime Minister sought to refuting criticism that India’s vaccination drive is moving at a slow pace; on the contrary, India proved its mettle by making two made-in-India jabs in a short span and over 23 crore doses have already been administered.
He stressed that the Centre is making all efforts on a war-footing to fight the pandemic and production of essential medicines was ramped up.
With the second wave seemingly waning, daily fresh cases in the country have fallen to just 100,636 on Monday, the lowest level since April 4. The number of reported daily deaths on Monday hit the lowest since April 22. Against this backdrop, several states have already eased or begun the process of easing lockdown curbs that were imposed to contain infections.