Covid: Where are the vaccines, ask states
Health ministers from Congress-ruled states on Sunday objected to the differential pricing of vaccines for the Centre and the states, but asked the Union government to ensure availability of doses to make the drive to inoculate those aged 18 to 45 successful.
“We approached the (Covishield maker) Serum Institute of India to buy vaccines. They told us they were not in a position to supply to the states as the Centre’s orders would be completed (only) by May 15,” Rajasthan health minister Raghu Sharma said.
Currently, the Centre is supplying vaccines free to the states to vaccinate those aged 45 and above.
From May 1, when all adults become eligible for the jab, the states will have to buy the vaccines from the manufacturers at prices far higher than that charged to the Centre.
On Sunday, the health ministers of Rajasthan, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand -- ruled by the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance — said at a joint news conference they were ready to pay for the doses despite the irrationality of the differential pricing. However, they said, the manufacturers didn’t seem to be in a position to supply the required volume of vaccines.
They argued that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had bungled in the quest to play politics and shift to the states the responsibility to vaccinate those aged 18 to 45.
“We will pay but where is the vaccine?... The Centre hasn’t even given us enough remdesivir and oxygen,” Sharma said.
Chhattisgarh health minister T.S. Singhdeo accused the Centre of playing politics with the vaccination drive.
“The states will fund the drive to vaccinate those aged between 18 and 45 but the certificate will carry Modi’s photograph. Even that is fine but the Centre should have planned before the rollout of the new plan, making sure there was no vaccine shortage,” he said.
The health ministers of Punjab and Jharkhand, Balbir Sidhu and Banna Gupta, made similar points.
All the ministers expressed outrage at the Modi government’s decision to allow the vaccine manufacturers to fix prices for the states and private hospitals that are higher than the Rs 150 per dose the Centre had negotiated for itself.
Covishield will cost the states Rs 400 a dose and private hospitals Rs 600; while the corresponding figures for Covaxin are Rs 600 and Rs 1,200.
Sharma said: “The Centre should not only have fixed the price for the states but also finalised the quotas and delivery schedule.”
Gupta said: “The people will say it’s now the states’ responsibility without realising that vaccines are not available. We can’t produce vaccines at our home.”
The health ministers said the cash-strapped states had ramped up testing facilities and increased the number of hospital beds but the Centre had not worked out an effective plan to supply oxygen.
“We have surplus oxygen and conveyed to the Centre that we can give to the other states if transport is arranged. No tanker has come,” Singhdeo said.
The health ministers contested Modi’s claim that Covid hadn’t spread to rural areas. They accused the Centre of discriminatory allotment of remdesivir and oxygen, arguing the quotas hadn’t been fixed according to the states’ populations or volume of patients.
“Rajasthan has 1.27 lakh (Covid) patients but got 140 tonnes of oxygen while Gujarat got 927 tonnes with 1 lakh infections,” Sharma said. “Rajasthan got 26,500 remdesivir (doses) and Gujarat 1.6 lakh.”
Gupta said the Prime Minister had used the pandemic for partisan politics and political propaganda.
“Modiji says mask zaroori, do gaj ki doori. He then holds election rallies where thousands jostle with one another. He imposed a total lockdown on four hours’ notice when the cases were few, and now argues against lockdowns when they (cases) have peaked,” Gupta said.
The Congress central leadership too has taken up the issue of pricing.
“The government’s ineptitude has been called out by the two vaccine manufacturers who have now put five prices on the table for similar vaccines and the government is silent,” former finance minister P. Chidambaram said.
“It is time to call the bluff of the two manufacturers. The way to do it is to invoke compulsory licensing and invite price bids from other pharma manufacturers that will include royalty payable to SII (Serum Institute) and (Covaxin maker) Bharat Biotech.
“L1, L2 (lowest and second-lowest bidder), etc, will reveal the true cost of manufacturing of the two vaccines, including a reasonable profit. There is a body of opinion that holds that even at Rs 150 per dose, the two current manufacturers will make a small profit. If true, at Rs 400-1,000, it will be profiteering. Perhaps that is what the government wants. Will the ministry of health please respond?”
Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala said: “The Modi government has introduced the most discriminatory and insensitive vaccination policy in the entire world. The government’s vaccination policy has deregulated 50 per cent of the production of the two vaccine manufacturers as free from price regulations altogether.”
Surjewala added: “A rough calculation suggests, assuming that states will provide 50 per cent of the vaccination and individuals will bear 50 per cent of the vaccination cost, that the profit of the two vaccine manufacturers will be Rs 111,100 crore. They will profiteer even from the 28 per cent population that lives below the poverty line.”