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Examining the Context of Free Vaccine Debate by Congress

After fuelling vaccine hesitancy initially, now the Congress Party is demanding free vaccines for all. Rahul Gandhi has also posted a tweet to that effect. Senior leader Shashi Tharoor has written a column demanding free vaccine for all. However, it must be noted that Congress is demanding free vaccines for all from the Centre. This would mean that States, many of which are ruled by Congress and its allies, can abdicate their responsibility of inoculating their respective population.

Of Course, Vaccine is Free in India

The vaccination drive currently underway in India is being conducted free of cost in Government hospitals. Even after vaccination opens to 18+ years old on May 1, the Centre will continue to provide free vaccination for those above 45 years of age, considered to be most vulnerable to the COVID-19 infection.

At present, 50% of the stock in the current vaccine production will be going to the States. These States are free to negotiate a good price with the approved vaccine manufacturers and distribute the same, free of cost in their States.

India vs Other Nation’s Examples

Shashi Tharoor in his column argues that many nations are vaccinating the entire population for free. He says in the United States of America, even billionaires are availing the free-of-cost vaccine.

It is another thing that Mr. Tharoor had initially advocated open market availability of vaccine so that who can afford it, can pay for it.

As on April 29, the Government of India had provided more than 16.16 crore vaccine doses to States/UTs free of cost. More than 1 crore doses available with the States/UTs are yet to be administered.

Some of the countries that have made vaccine free to all citizens include:

France – Its entire population is not more than 7 crore

Japan – It has a population size of 12.63 crore

Norway- Close to 54 lakh population

So, India has already vaccinated the population size of many countries at free of cost.

The USA with 33 crore population, with its ample resources, is certainly vaccinating all for free. Nevertheless, it needs to be noted that it has lost double the count of lives despite having access to arguably the most sophisticated health system in the world.

It is against this background, that it becomes imperative for State Governments to collaborate with their resources and pitch in proportion, if they support free of cost vaccination for all.

In fact, many states like Uttar Pradesh and Assam have already announced free vaccination for all. Perhaps, under peer pressure, many Congress-ruled states too declared free vaccination drives. But now they aren’t really keen to execute the same.

Congress on the one hand is pressurising the Centre to bear all the cost. On the other hand, it is attacking indigenous vaccine companies who have been able to provide the vaccine doses in a short span of time, with innovation and research, for “Profiteering”. This will adversely affect the spirit of entrepreneurship and pace of innovations that are critical to overcome any crisis.