Centre's liberalised vaccination policy is 'self-defeating': Experts

?OUR BUREAU Mumbai | Updated on May 11, 2021

'Ambivalent stand on invoking Patents Act flexibilities weakens India's stand globally'

The Centre’s liberalised vaccine policy is self-defeating and goes against the idea of vaccinating maximum number of people in the fastest possible time, say public health advocacy voices, unhappy with the government’s affidavit defending its vaccine programme at the Supreme Court.

The segmentation that has been created in procurement – between Centre, State and private hospitals – is slowing down the entire vaccination process and denying people their right to health, said KM Gopakumar of the Third World Network.

The Centre should be the single procurement point and should supply States and private hospitals. But in the present liberalised programme of the Centre, there are multiple actors and they are competing with each other, he says, adding that those without the ability to compete on price will be left behind.

The price dichotomy

The liberalised vaccination programme allowed vaccine companies to sell half their capacity to States and private hospitals at predetermined prices. The prices were announced for States and private hospitals by Serum Institute of India (₹300/ ₹600 per dose) and Bharat Biotech (₹600 and ₹1,200), respectively. But this met with a political pushback from States, as the Centre’s procurement price for its first two tranches was lower, at about ₹200 per dose and ₹150, respectively. And though the top-brass at the vaccine companies have said that subsequent supplies to the Centre will be at the revised selling price to the States, there is no such indication of revised prices from the Centre.

The Centre’s statement in the context of exercising its flexibilities under the amended Patents Act has also drawn much flak. “It is presumptuous to assume that the patent holder will not agree to more voluntary licences for such manufacturers which have a new drug manufacturing permission from the Drug Controller General of India. However, if such a manufacturer applies for a compulsory licence under Section 92, the same may be suitably considered,” the Centre submitted.

This is contradictory to India’s global stand wherein it is seeking a temporary waiver of intellectual property on Covid--linked health products at the WTO, says Gopakumar. It undermines India’s international stand and the country loses its moral high ground in negotiations, he added.

Amulya Nidhi with Swasthya Adhikar Manch questions the need for a new vaccine policy. There is a vaccination policy in the country and it has been a success story in public health, he says, referring to the Universal Immunisation Programme. And it has always been free through government channels, while those who could afford it could go to private centres, he points out. “There is no need for so much discussion. Like you have done with the BCG / DPT and other vaccines, with Tuberculosis medicines and HIV medicines, the Centre needs to procure it and supply to the States. Let the States decide how to operationalise it and whom to prioritise,”

Published on May 10, 2021

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