Editorial

PM Modi address: Putting Covid policy on the right course

| Updated on June 08, 2021

Prime Minister Modi has done well to revert to vaccine procurement by the Centre

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to scrap the liberalised vaccine procurement policy, unveiled in mid-April, has to be welcomed. In his speech on Monday evening, he said that the Centre would go back to procuring most of the vaccines — 75 per cent to be precise — and distributing it to the States for free. The remaining 25 per cent of the vaccines (whether produced or contracted through imports) will be purchased by private hospitals. This finally ends the chaotic medley of prices that came into play after April — with no vaccines actually available for most even as the private hospitals somehow managed to obtain stocks at prices between ₹600 and ₹1,000 for sale to the well-heeled. While the Prime Minister is right in pointing out that the States had, in the first place, asked for a more decentralised vaccine management policy, it is time to bury the hatchet and accept that the formula has bombed. The main take-out from the new policy is that the 18-44 age group, a population of about 800 million, will now get the vaccines free at government hospitals. The Centre had so far confined itself to subsidising those above 45 years of age for whom it decided to procure just half the vaccines available. The Supreme Court recently indicated that there was no rational basis to subsidising one set of people, and not the other, for a life-saving good. The Centre has, therefore, done well to retrace its steps in the face of growing confusion over vaccine prices and availability, and opposition from people and parties to the existing policy.

The Centre can leverage its monopoly buyer status to procure large volumes of vaccines in the pipeline — Novavax, Biological E, Zydus Cadila, Pfizer and Moderna — at mutually feasible prices. However, the challenge now is to ensure that the Centre actually procures 75 per cent of the supplies and not less, at a time when vaccines are not readily available. It should not be that private hospitals capitalise on the vaccine scarcity and corner more than their allocated 25 per cent. Given that there is still not enough clarity over existing capacities in the country with the two manufacturers, the Centre will have to ensure that it gets its rightful share of 75 per cent.

With vaccine procurement issues sorted out, the Centre and States should work together in countering vaccine hesitancy and in ensuring that supplies are transparently and optimally allocated to States. To this end, a ‘Centre-State vaccine council’ should be set up with access to real time data on availability, to be matched with the needs of the States based on their unprotected population and active cases. It is in the interest of States to report cases accurately by ramping up testing. The Centre’s Budgetary allocation of ₹35,000 crore for vaccine management may have to be increased in the days ahead. But that’s a small price to pay to overcome a frightful pandemic.

Published on June 07, 2021

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