“If vaccines are free for all, why should private hospitals charge for them?" Congress leader Rahul Gandhi asked on Monday as the opposition party demanded universal free vaccination against Covid-19, after the prime minister announced that his government will provide free jabs to states for inoculation of all above the age of 18. The Congress also sought to credit the Supreme Court for the change in the Centre's vaccination policy and said the announcement came after the apex court reprimanded it and sought an affidavit on the inoculation drive.
In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Centre has decided to buy 75 per cent of jabs from vaccine makers, including 25 per cent of the state quota, and give it for free to state governments, while private sector hospitals can continue to procure the remaining 25 per cent. After PM Modi's address, Gandhi tweeted, "One simple question - If vaccines are free for all, why should private hospitals charge for them." He used #FreeVaccineForAll hashtag with his tweet.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, "The prime minister is guilty of endangering the lives of Indians by repeatedly changing the (vaccination) policy and instead of accusing the states, he should be tendering an apology for endangering people's lives." Surjewala reiterated the demand for universal free vaccination and said the government should also transfer Rs 6,000 into bank accounts of the poor to help them cope with the impact of the pandemic and the resultant lockdown. He alleged that the government has brought these changes in its vaccination policy after it was reprimanded by the Supreme Court.
Some states had gone to the apex court against the Centre's vaccination policy alleging that it is not uniform. Surjewala said the Modi government has changed its vaccine policy thrice on January 16, May 1 and now today.
Accusing the prime minister of endangering the lives of indians, he asked if he would take responsibility. "Why burden the middle class and the salaried people with payments in private hospitals," he asked.
"Why not transfer Rs 6000 in the accounts of every poor considering there have been two crore job losses in the second wave of coronavirus," he asked. Surjewala claimed that at the current vaccination rate with the average between January 16 and June 7 being only 15.46 lakh jabs per day, it will take 1,091 days, or till May 2024, to inoculate all.
"Then, how will you vaccinate 100 crore people by December 2021, as promised," he asked, alleging that only 4.61 crore have been fully vaccinated in last six months, which is 3.28 per cent of the population. The Congress has been demanding free vaccination for all and has urged the Centre to procure the jabs and provide them to states.
The Congress on its official Twitter handle said, "Modi ji - stop with the tokenism, it will not heal the deep wounds you've inflicted on our nation. Instead - apologise and not give lectures". Congress leader and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said, "Thank PM Narendra Modi Ji for acceding to our request of central procurement and distribution of vaccine for all age-groups. I had written twice to Narendra Modi Ji on this issue and to (Health Minister) Harsh Vardhan Ji suggesting this as the only feasible solution to Covid Vaccine crisis." Another Congress Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, said PM Modi should inform which states had demanded that vaccines should be procured and provided for 18-44 years age group.
"To my knowledge, no state had made such a demand and it seems that the prime minister has been misinformed," he said on Twitter. Gehlot also said that many states, including Rajasthan, had moved the Supreme Court against the Centre's vaccination policy and the result of which is that the prime minister had to change it.