Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced today that the Centre would provide vaccines free of charge to all above 18 from June 21 and would take back control of vaccination from states, in a do-over of rules that were enforced about a month ago.
“The Centre is taking back total control of vaccination now. It will take over the 25 per cent doses assigned to states and this will be implemented in the next two weeks. From June 21 (International Day of Yoga), the Centre will provide free vaccines to states,” PM Modi announced in an address to the nation, in which he parried criticism of his government’s vaccine policy.
The Centre will buy 75 per cent of the vaccines produced by companies, including 25 per cent assigned to states.
Those who want to pay for their shot can go to private hospitals that will still buy 25 per cent of the doses directly from manufacturers. Their service charge, however, will be capped at Rs 150 per dose over the fixed price of the vaccine, the PM said.
“75% of vaccination will be free and under the Centre, 25% will be paid and by private hospitals,” he said.
Under the earlier policy, the central government gave free vaccines to those above 45 and frontline workers, and left state governments and private hospitals to administer doses at a cost to people between 18 and 44.
PM Modi put out an emphatic defence of his vaccine policy, which has lately come under attack by states, opposition parties and the Supreme Court.
States had complained about having to buy doses at higher prices compared to what the Centre paid. Many opposition-ruled states had also demanded that the Centre buy doses and provide them to states free of cost.
The Prime Minister sought to point out that the vaccine drives was decentralized because states had complained. “Many states demanded vaccinations to be decentralized. Some voices even questioned prioritising certain age groups, including the elderly,”
He said India’s vaccine policy had been a success because of “good intentions and clear policy”.
“In 2014, India had 60% vaccine coverage, we managed to take it past 90% during our term,” PM Modi said.
He said India’s fight against the second wave of the coronavirus was on. “Against an unseen, shapeshifting enemy, our biggest weapon is maintaining Covid protocol like masks and distancing. Vaccines are our shield,” he said.
However, he said, compared to the demand, the production is only limited.
“If we did not have a made-in-India vaccine, can you imagine what would have happened in a country like India,” he said.
He pointed out that earlier, India would take decades to get vaccines from abroad. “The speed at which it was going, it would take 40 years for 100 per cent coverage,” he said.
Seven companies are producing various vaccines against the coronavirus and the trial of three more vaccines is at an advanced stage, the Prime Minister said.
The process of buying vaccines from companies of other countries had also been fast-tracked.
PM Modi said research is ongoing on a nasal spray vaccine which, if successful, can significantly boost India’s vaccination drive.
Under a new “liberalized” policy that came into effect on May 1, states and private hospitals were allowed to buy vaccines directly from manufacturers. At the same time, the Centre opened vaccinations to all adults and said it would continue to offer free inoculations for those above 45.
The Supreme Court last week called the policy of free vaccines for people who are above 45 and paid doses for the 18-44 group “arbitrary and irrational”.
The court asked the centre to review its policy and “place on record a roadmap of projected availability of vaccines till 31 December 2021”. The Centre was asked to furnish complete details on its vaccination policy, including all documents and file notings, and also clarify how Rs 35,000 crore announced in the Budget was used in procuring vaccines.