In another major shift in vaccine policy, the Centre also allowed states to directly procure vaccine doses from manufacturers
New Delhi: Under pressure to open up vaccines for all age groups as Covid-19 cases surge in India, the Centre on Monday announced that vaccinations will be available to all above the age of 18 from May 1. In another major shift in vaccine policy, the Centre also allowed states to directly procure vaccine doses from manufacturers. Vaccine manufacturers have been asked to supply 50 per cent of their stock to the Centre, and split the rest 50 per cent between state governments and the open market.
The decision for “liberalised and accelerated” Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccination drive from May 1 was announced after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a series of meetings over India's response to record daily surges in Covid cases.
With Covid-19 cases rising at an alarming speed and hospital beds, oxygen supply and medicines in short supply, the government was under tremendous pressure to open up vaccination and allow states access to medical essentials.
India on Monday reported 2.74 lakh cases and 1, 619 deaths.
As per the decisions, taken after Mr Modi held a series of meetings with doctors and leaders of the pharmaceutical industry, pricing, procurement, eligibility and administration of vaccines have been made flexible in Phase 3 and all stakeholders have been given flexibility to customise to local needs. However, vaccines in the government sector will continue to be administered free of cost. States too have been given the freedom to procure additional vaccine doses directly from the manufacturers while the Centre will also continue to supply them.
Vaccine manufacturers can scale up their production as well as attract new national and international players. Private hospitals would have to procure their supplies of Covid-19 vaccine from the 50 per cent supply earmarked for states or from the open market. Private vaccination providers will have to declare their self-set vaccination price.
Government will allow the imported ready-to-use vaccines to be utilised in the private sector and state facilities. Centre, from its share, will allocate vaccines to states/UTs based on the criteria of extent of infection (number of active Covid cases) and performance (speed of administration).
Incidentally, this move comes a day after former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh wrote a letter to PM Modi urging him to ramp up vaccination efforts and let states decide priorities for age groups. Dr Singh was himself admitted in New Delhi AIIMS on Monday after testing positive for Covid-19. However, the letter written by Dr Singh was not received by the government in the same spirit of "constructive cooperation".
In a rather terse reply, Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan replied to the former Prime Minister and gave a political spin to his suggestions, saying the Congress leader should first advise his junior party leaders who have been critical of the Centre’s vaccine programme.
“History shall be kinder to you Dr Manmohan Singh ji if your offer of ‘constructive cooperation’ and valuable advice was followed by your @INCIndia leaders as well in such extraordinary times!” Dr Harsh Vardhan said while attaching his reply to the mild-mannered Dr Singh on Twitter only to face criticism on social media with netizens accusing him of playing politics at this time of pandemic instead of taking suggestions.
The government has been scrambling for a response as the second wave has exposed the country's weak and uncaring health care system more than the first wave. With Covid-19 cases shooting, and the situation getting worse each day, harrowing stories have been emerging of hospitals overflowing with patients, patients suffering and dying due to shortage of medicines, oxygen and hospital beds.
Facing severe criticism for its poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and for preferring elections and Kumbh Mela to public health, the Union government on Monday went into a huddle to find ways to wriggle out of this politically volatile situation.
Miffed with the handling of the situation on ground, Allahabad high court on Monday stepped in and ordered lockdown in five prominent cities of Uttar Pradesh -- Lucknow, Prayagraj, Varanasi, Kanpur and Gorakhpur -- till April 26 to contain the virus spread. “If popular government has its own political compulsions in not checking public movements during a pandemic, we cannot remain mere passive spectators," it said.
“In any civilized society if the public health system is unable to meet the challenges and people die for want of proper medication, it means there has been no proper development. Health and education go side-by-side. Those in the helm of affairs of governance are to be blamed for the present chaotic health problems and more so when there is democracy which means a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” the Allahabad HC observed while adding: "If people die of pandemic in a large number due to paucity of sufficient medical aid it would be the governments to blame which failed to counter the pandemic even after one long year of experience and learning. One would only laugh at us that we have enough to spend on elections and very little to spend on public health.”