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Covishield pricing whips up a political storm

AM Jigeesh, PT Jyothi Datta New Delhi/Mumbai | Updated on April 22, 2021

The concerns are over vaccine equity and that some States would get left behind.

Serum Institute of India (SII) chief executive Adar Poonawalla has stirred a hornet’s nest, politically, with the pricing structure he recently announced for Covishield vaccine.

A day after SII announced that Covishield would be priced at ₹400/dose for States and ₹600/dose for private hospitals, key political voices, including Congress President Sonia Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and DMK leader MK Stalin, have been raised against the “differential pricing mechanism”. The concern was over vaccine equity, and whether some States would get left behind.

Sonia Gandhi sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to remove any pricing of vaccine. In a letter to Modi, she asked the Centre to give everyone over 18 years a vaccine, regardless of their economic circumstances. She said it would exacerbate existing challenges. She reminded Modi that the Centre was duty-bound to provide free vaccination for citizens in the 18-45 age group and it should not abdicate that responsibility. “This (the policy) is complete abandonment of the government’s responsibility towards our youth,” she said.

The “differential pricing mechanism” announced by the Serum Institute means that citizens will be compelled to pay high rates to be vaccinated. “This will also bleed the finances of State governments,” she said. The vaccine-maker, however, did not comment on the political backlash.

But an industry representative pointed out that Serum had delivered two tranches of vaccine to the Centre at over ₹200 and about ₹150, less than the globally committed price of about $3. Further, he said, the money was invested in scaling-up production for future requirements.

Mamata wants one price

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee demanded one price for vaccines. “One nation, one party, one leader shouts BJP all the time but to save lives they can’t have one price for vaccine.

Every Indian needs free vaccine, regardless of age, caste, creed, location. The Centre must fix one price for Covid vaccine irrespective of who pays — the Centre or the States,” she said.

Stalin wants Central funds

DMK leader MK Stalin also said the pricing was discriminatory, defeating the objective of universal vaccination. He urged the Prime Minister to ensure one price for all. “States must also receive Central funding to procure vaccines as per their needs,” he added.

Opposition leader in Bihar Tejshwi Yadav said that at this speed it will take eight-nine years to vaccinate all the people. He urged the Centre to spell out the plan for procurement of vaccines. “Just four per cent people have received vaccines as of now,” he said.

Published on April 22, 2021

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