At the onset, when the Central Government, medicine experts and vaccine manufacturers were making a pitch to vaccinate all frontline and health workers as a part of India’s massive vaccination programme, Opposition Parties along with the Congress and some media platforms alleged that “too much centralisation is not good and states should have higher say in vaccination”. Observations such as “the pace of vaccination and vaccine availability is slow”, “vaccine should be made available in open market” were made by vested interests to create an impression that the Centre was not giving enough room to States.
The Centre continued to tread cautiously as it deemed that it was its duty to inoculate the vulnerable and aged population along with health and frontline workers who were putting their lives at risk to serve others in the pandemic.
Now, that the Centre has opened up vaccination for all people above 18 years, political parties and vested groups which alleged “centralisation” are contradicting their own stance.
The Congress Party has said that the Centre has abdicated its role and duty in the vaccination program. Rahul Gandhi had said that private entities will indulge in profiteering through vaccination. Others like Mamata Banerjee and Pinarayi Vijayan also joined the chorus.
Let’s check some of these allegations.
Claim: Centre has abdicated from its duty of vaccinating Indians
Fact: Vaccination shall continue as before in Government of India vaccination centres; it will be provided free of cost to the eligible population as defined earlier i.e., Health Care Workers (HCWs), Front Line Workers (FLWs) and all people above 45 years of age. Remember, all people above 45 years of age, account for more than 80% COVID-19 mortality in the country.
Claim: Since vaccinating above 18 age people falls on state governments, they face a resource crunch. The Centre is burdening the states.
Fact: The Centre has not passed on the responsibility to state governments. Vaccine manufacturers are empowered to release up to 50% of their supply to State Governments and in the open market at a pre-declared price.
The Centre has taken the strain of incentivising the vaccine manufacturers to scale up their productions. It should be noted that the Centre has given Rs 4,500 crore credit support for Serum Institute of India (Covishield) and Bharat Biotech (COVAXIN) to boost COVID-19 vaccine production. Bharat Biotech has already stated that it will scale-up production to 700 million doses annually to meet the surging demand. Serum Institute of India also said that the Centre’s initiative will help augment production capacity.
On behalf of the vaccine industry in India, I would like to thank and applaud Shri @narendramodi Ji, @nsitharaman Ji, for your decisive policy changes and swift financial aid which will help vaccine production and distribution in India. https://t.co/NedjaFLsx9
— Adar Poonawalla (@adarpoonawalla) April 20, 2021
Claim: Government should have vaccinated Indians for free.
Fact: As noted earlier, the Centre is continuing its vaccination programme for the vulnerable and frontline workers, which is free of cost at Government hospitals. Beyond that, if the State Governments want to provide free of cost vaccines, they are well within their capacity to do so.
Many BJP-governed State Governments have announced that they will vaccinate their 18+ year population for free. If populous state like Uttar Pradesh can do so, why should Chief Ministers of relatively less populated States like Kerala and Chhattisgarh not invest their resources to inoculate their adult population?
The argument about inability of smaller states being unable to provide free vaccines doesn’t hold water considering the state of Assam is already leading by example.
आज मंत्रिपरिषद की बैठक में यह निर्णय लिया गया है कि उत्तर प्रदेश में 18 वर्ष से अधिक आयु के सभी प्रदेशवासियों का कोरोना टीकाकरण @UPGovt द्वारा निःशुल्क कराया जाएगा।
कोरोना हारेगा, भारत जीतेगा…
— Yogi Adityanath (@myogiadityanath) April 20, 2021
Assam will give FREE vaccines to everyone from 18-45 years. GOI is giving free vaccines for 45 +.
Funds collected in Assam Arogya Nidhi last year shall be utilized for procurement of vaccines.
— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) April 20, 2021
Claim: Private players will benefit from the move.
Fact: Vaccine manufacturing involves private players world-over. Production of vaccines is a resource consuming exercise, with research, innovation and manufacturing entailing exorbitant capital investments and production costs.
Moreover, States are empowered to procure additional vaccine doses directly from the manufacturers. Perhaps, Rahul Gandhi as the leader can ensure that States under Congress rule emerge as the best negotiators, bargain hard and execute leakage-proof procurement of vaccine.
From fuelling vaccine hesitancy to demanding for more vaccines later to alleging excess centralisation to now saying the Centre has abdicated its responsibility, Congress and other political parties have been shifting goalposts incessantly. At a time when constructive partnership was needed to tide over the crisis, Congress is choosing to go with political scoring.