Affirming the vaccine policy: The Tribune India


Almost five months after the launch of the nationwide immunization program, central government immunization policy remains a work in progress. On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Center will purchase 75% of vaccines from vaccine manufacturers for free supply to states, while private sector hospitals will continue to procure 25% of vaccines. It was a bashing by the Supreme Court last week that prompted the Center to make a course correction. Judge DY Chandrachud reminded the Union government of its constitutional duty during a national crisis to obtain vaccines for the entire country. So things went back to square one after the largely unproductive month of May in which various states attempted unsuccessfully to procure vaccines themselves. Centralized procurement was a matter of course from the start. Letting states do the work has only led to chaos and confusion amid the devastating second wave of the pandemic.

Universal free vaccination is still elusive as private sector hospitals have been allowed to charge a maximum of Rs 150 per dose above the pre-set price. This disparity is eroding, although it would be difficult to ensure that the price cap is not breached by unscrupulous elements. As the second wave is clearly receding, now is the time to improve the vaccination rate so that a significant proportion of the population has a protective shield against the third wave, as it strikes.

India has managed to fully immunize just 3 percent of its citizens, far behind the US and UK (both around 41 percent). Even Brazil (11%) and Russia (9%) are ahead. The current breather should be used to deal with the vaccine shortage, especially taking into account the separate possibility of inoculation of children in the coming months. Vaccination policy must be fine-tuned once and for all, as frequent cuts and changes can be counterproductive. The goal of vaccinating 100 crore people by the end of December is a distant dream. The government is well advised to focus on short-term goals and take it to the next level only when they are met.

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