Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on Monday to amend the vaccination policy to say the Centre will supply vaccines for all adults for free to the states ends unsavoury politics over the life-saving exercise of vaccination and makes the target of vaccinating every adult by the end of this year more realistic.
News18 was the first to report on June 6 about government’s plans to revisit the vaccination policy. Inside details gleaned by News18 reveal that the plan for centralised free vaccination was presented to the PM on June 1, on the completion of one month of the decentralised model. “The PM had given an in-principle approval in the meeting and the ground work for it began right on June 1 and was announced on Monday,” a government source said.
This was incidentally a day after a suo-motu hearing in the Supreme Court on the vaccination policy on May 31. The detailed order dated May 31 was uploaded on June 2 in which the SC asked the government to undertake a fresh review of its vaccination policy based on the concerns raised and file an affidavit on various points about the existing policy within two weeks.
It is learnt that the Centre had planned to amend the policy as soon as more vaccine candidates came into the field, as it was not feasible to expect states to deal with five or six different manufacturers. The prime minister in his speech on Monday did say the policy change in May was an “experiment”.
However, the rising voices against the vaccination policy from not just the Congress chief ministers but even ‘friendly’ CMs like Naveen Patnaik and Jagan Mohan Reddy last week, and the Supreme Court’s scanner on the policy on May 31, may have hastened matters.
The amended vaccine policy now comes into effect from June 21, the PM announced.
A lot of politics has been played on the vaccination exercise with Congress MP Rahul Gandhi writing to the PM in April asking for state governments to be given a “greater say in vaccine procurement and distribution”. West Bengal CM Mamata Bannerjee also wanted her state to deal with the manufacturers directly.
The Centre played politics in good measure too by putting the ball in the other court and letting states have a go for about five weeks at getting vaccines on their own. The failure of global tenders gave states a reality check. “Now, the politics is finally over. States will get vaccines for all adults free-of-cost without burdening their budgets so the conflict ends,” a top central government functionary said.
This also makes the complete vaccination of all 94 crore adults in the country a more realistic proposition as the Centre gets full control and more leverage to get vaccines from multiple companies. “Companies like Pfizer, Moderna and J&J would only deal with the Centre. Plus Biotech E has been released Rs 1500 Cr as an advance by the Centre so we will deal with them,” the central official said.
Government officials said leaving a 25% quota for private hospitals as earlier also made sense as those who can afford paying for the vaccines should do so at private hospitals, like people in the 45+ age groups did earlier at private hospitals. The issue, officials said, was private hospitals lately charging much more the vaccine from people over and above the cost they paid, and hence it has been stipulated that they can only charge a maximum service charge of Rs 150.
Incidentally, the Centre had already intervened in some measure in the earlier policy in mid-May when it decided to fix the quota for each state with regard to how much vaccines for the 18-44 group would be supplied to them by the manufacturers, in proportion to their population. Some states had objected to the same given it was they who were paying for the vaccines. The Centre would now be fixing allocations for states for all age-groups but paying for the vaccines too.