As India Gears Up for Mega Covid Inoculation Drive, States Await Clarity on its Share in Vaccine Bill
Covid Vaccine- AFP image.
Although the centre has informed states that it will take care of the procurement of vaccines, the state governments are not sure as to what expense formula would be adopted for the mass vaccination drive.
Nearly a week has passed since India’s central drugs regulator granted restricted approval to vaccines against Covid-19, however, the state governments are still awaiting clarity on the financial burden of the vaccines on their exchequer.
Although the Centre has informed states that it will take care of the procurement of vaccines, the state governments are not sure as to what expense formula would be adopted for the mass vaccination drive.
News18 spoke to top health department officials of Punjab, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh on this issue. The officials confirmed that as yet there was no official clarity on this matter.
On Thursday, the Union Health Minister is scheduled to hold a video conference meeting with state health ministers to review preparedness ahead of the January 8 nationwide dry run on administering of Covid-19 vaccine.
However, the country’s existing Universal Immunization Programme which covers children and pregnant women is fully sponsored by the central government.
Last week, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan had tweeted that, “In 1st phase of Covid19 vaccination free vaccine shall be provided across the nation to most prioritised beneficiaries that including 1 crore healthcare & 2 crore frontline workers (sic).”
Despite the union health minister’s statement, there is still a lack of clarity on which sections covered under Phase I of vaccination will get it for free, T S Singh Deo, Chhattisgarh health minister said.
“It is not proper to keep the announcement in suspension. Preparations have to be made, whether states will have the capacity to do it. How will it be managed if it is left to the states? Some states have said they will be doing it. So, this is not the way to go about it in a national pandemic. This is not the way to deal with it. There must be complete clarity and openness,” Deo said.
The Chhattisgarh health minister added that he was hopeful that states would get some clarity on the issue during the meeting with the health minister on Thursday afternoon.
The concerns raised come in the backdrop of demands made by several cash-strapped states, particularly opposition ruled, that the centre should give more financial assistance to tide over the losses owing to the pandemic and the Covid-19-triggered national lockdown.
Last year, Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel had written to Modi seeking special financial assistance and revenue grant for FY 2020-21. Kerala too had urged that more borrowing should be allowed, while Tamil Nadu had sought for release of a grant to tide over the pandemic and Delhi had demanded that disaster funding should be made available to them.
Similar views were echoed by top health officials in other states. “The Government of India will come out with a policy on who will pay and who will not pay. All those engaged in the Covid pandemic, healthcare workers, and frontline workers will get it for free. Rest, with regards to those above 50-55 years of age we don’t know yet to know what will be the system, whether they have to be given it for free or they have to be charged? Hopefully, we will get more clarity on this as well as on supplies,” said Punjab’s Principal Health Secretary, Hussan Lal.
Karnataka health secretary, Jawaid Akhtar, when asked about the potential expenses states have to bear for vaccines, said it would be appropriate to check on the issue with the Government of India. Meanwhile, the health secretaries of Odisha, Pradipta Kumar Mahapatra; of West Bengal, Narayan Swaroop Nigam and of J Radhakrishnan of Tamil Nadu also said that while the procurement part is clear, there was no indication about the costs to be borne by state governments.
India has so far approved two vaccines- Serum Institute of India’s Covishield vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. Following the approval, swift developments have occurred on dry runs to test on ground rollout of the vaccines. The health ministry said Tuesday that it is likely to roll out the vaccine on January 13.