Despite rolling out the “liberalised vaccination policy” on May 1, the Centre is deciding on the allocation of vaccines to states for the 18-44 age group, though local governments are paying for the shots and procuring stocks directly from two manufacturers.
Many states are blaming this process for the shortage of vaccines in the 18-44 category at a time when their global tenders for doses are proving to be a flop show with no major vaccine-maker — besides Sputnik V manufacturers — showing interest.
But the high prices being cited are acting as a dampener and making it virtually impossible for states to go ahead with the exercise. “We have bought Covishield at Rs 300 per dose and Covaxin at Rs 400 per dose, but a high price of nearly Rs 1,000 (a dose) is being cited by certain distributors for Sputnik V and other global vaccines in response to our tenders. At a time when many opposition-ruled states are demanding GST waiver on vaccines being supplied to us by Serum Institute (maker of Covishield) and Bharat Biotech (maker of Covaxin) — as the extra charge is stretching our budget — paying such high prices is not feasible. We want the Centre to directly deal with global manufacturers and procure vaccines for us,” a senior Rajasthan government official told News18.
What is irking many states is that though they are paying manufacturers for orders for the 18-44 age group, the monthly allocation is being determined by the Centre. Last week, the Centre informed all states that they would get about 4.8 crore vaccines in all from the two manufacturers for the 18-44 group till the end of June. The allocation based on their population was specified to states. “There are limited production capacities of the two manufacturers till July…hence, to ensure that every state gets an equitable share based on its population of the 18-44 age group, the Centre has intervened to fix allocation quotas,” a senior official in the health ministry said. But many states have questioned the Centre’s intervention in what is essentially a direct transaction between them and the manufacturers. “States such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are getting most stocks,” an official in the Chhattisgarh government said.
Many states such as Delhi, Rajasthan and Maharashtra have run out of stocks for the 18-44 category, and they had to halt the exercise for this week — before the arrival of fresh stocks in June. Many states have complained that they have released advance payments to manufacturers, but are still not getting enough jabs. “The Centre has no right to fix state-wise allocations for the 18-44 category, unlike in the case for the 45+ age category — where the Centre is supplying vaccine stocks for free to states. This only means that even if a state has resources to pay for, and places bigger orders with manufacturers with the intention to vaccinate its 18-44 population quickly, it will not be allowed to do so, as the Centre is fixing the allocation based on population,” a senior official in the Delhi government told News18. States such as Delhi and Punjab, which tried to open a new route for vaccines for the 18-44 group by speaking directly with global manufacturers, have been told by both Pfizer and Moderna that they would deal only with the Centre, and not with state governments.
The speed of the vaccination exercise in the 18-44 group, hence, is slow, at about 1.38 crore jabs so far over the past 26 days (since the beginning of the drive on May 1). In comparison, nearly 3.7 crore people of the 45-60 category were vaccinated in the first 26 days of the last month, after vaccination was opened for all between the ages of 45 and 60 on April 1. There is also wide disparity in vaccination numbers for the 18-44 age group among states, with Bihar leading the chart with 15.27 lakh jabs, followed by Uttar Pradesh at 15.14 lakh jabs and Rajasthan at 14.91 lakh jabs. However, Maharashtra, a big state, has given just 7.8 lakh jabs so far. Tamil Nadu is way behind at 4.1 lakh doses, while Telangana has given 4,084 jabs to the 18-44 group. “This is the reason that the Centre has intervened to reduce this disparity and ensure vaccination jabs are given in states to the 18-44 age group in proportion to their population. The Centre is coordinating with states and the manufacturers in this regard,” a Union health ministry official told News18.