States implore Centre to ensure equity in vaccine pricing

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on April 24, 2021

Many States have announced a ‘free Covid-19 vaccination’ programme   -  The Hindu

Many States have announced ‘free vaccination’ programme from May 1

As the May 1 deadline approaches for expanding Covid-19 vaccine coverage to include the age group of 18-45 years, many States have implored the Centre to ensure parity in prices. In view of the “free vaccination” announcement by a majority of the States, anxiety is mounting not just over the quantum of doses but also the differential pricing that would strain their finances.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) has announced a differential pricing mechanism for Covishield at ₹150 per dose (for an earlier consignment) to the Centre, ₹400 per dose to the States and ₹600 per dose to the private hospitals. In a letter to Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Saturday, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Singh Bhagel said the vaccine price should be capped and a minimum rate should be arrived at through the Bureau of Pharma Public Sector Undertakings of India (BPPI).

Also read: Centre removes basic customs duty and health cess on medical oxygen, related equipments

“It seems that the pharma companies are out to maximise their profits given the emergency situation. It is expected of the Centre to fix a minimum price through the price control mechanism and save the people of this country from exploitation. As there are only two companies providing vaccines in India, it would not be possible to control prices through the competitive bidding process. It would be appropriate if the Centre involved the BPPI to ascertain a minimum price and the States procure the vaccines through this mechanism. We urge you to employ this to expand vaccine coverage from May 1,” Bhagel said in his letter.

Innovative strategy

Meanwhile, the Kerala government has come up with an innovative strategy to raise funds for the vaccine. After a State government announcement for a separate account to receive donations to the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund, people’s contribution has already touched ₹527.85 crore. Of this, about ₹32.99 crore is through electronic mode. Google Pay shows that about 35,935 donations worth ₹2,48,69,728 were sent through the online platform to CMDRF.

The State has spent about ₹730 crore from the CMDRF for various Covid management functions including financial assistance to the poor.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan hailed the “overwhelming” response to the call to contribute to CMDRF. He narrated a number of emotional stories where even poor people gave a share of their life’s savings to the fund to help others to get vaccinated. “This means that we will handle this crisis as effectively as we handled the crisis created by the floods in 2018 and 2019,” Vijayan said on Saturday.

Most States anticipate that the Centre would provide them vaccine stock for the 45-plus age groups but they would have to directly procure for the added group of 18-45 years.

In Maharashtra, which has not yet made any announcement so far about free vaccination, the approximate population between 18-45 age group is 5 crore. At the rate of ₹ 400 for two doses, the cost of procurement will strain the State budgets even if it were to renegotiate the price with the SII.

Free vaccines

Meanwhile, Jharkhand joined other States including Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh et al in announcing free vaccination for all on Saturday.

About 4 crore people, irrespective of their age, will get the vaccine for free. About 38 lakh people have already been vaccinated ever since the mass vaccination drive began on March 1.The State reached a milestone of administering two lakh doses on Friday as it increased vaccine delivery centres to 1,450.

The pricing issue has already been flagged by several chief ministers and Opposition leaders including DMK chief MK Stalin, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

On Saturday, CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, who lost his son Ashish Yechury to Covid-19 earlier this week, wrote an urgent letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“I am writing to you on an urgent basis to ensure two things on utmost priority: ensure uninterrupted supply of medical oxygen to all hospitals and patients across the country by procuring it at any cost; and provide vaccines to all the state governments for a free and universal vaccination programme, bringing production of Indian vaccines under emergency provisions and importing from all available sources to prevent more deaths,” said Yechury.

“Immediately, spend the budgetary allocation of Rs 35,000 crores for the vaccination programme. I implore you to forthwith cancel the project for the construction of the new Central Vista in Delhi, put on hold all extravagant expenditures and transparently release all the money collected under PM-CARES fund and transfer the same for the supply of oxygen and vaccines,” he added.

Published on April 24, 2021

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