The Centre is likely join the states to inoculate those below 45 years at an appropriate time, maybe in the fourth phase of the vaccination drive, by freeing up age restriction on 50% of its procurement quota of doses with sufficient money already allocated for the FY22 budget. This is likely to significantly reduce the financial burden on states.
“We want to administer according to a risk-based system, not according to the richest man first. The central government will go by a certain social criterion of transparent nature like 45 years at present and it may get changed at a later date,” a senior government official said, seeking anonymity.
The Centre has announced phase three of the covid-19 vaccination programme from 1 May under which states and private hospitals are allowed to buy up to 50% of the domestic vaccine production to inoculate all adults in the 18-45 age group, while the remaining 50% will be procured by the Centre and will be supplied to states for vaccinating the 45 and above age group.
“We are ready to do 100% vaccination, but states have been writing to allow them to vaccinate their whole population. So now they can do whatever they want,” the official added.
The Centre has budgeted ₹35,000 crore for FY22 at a cost of ₹250 per dose, enough to vaccinate 700 million people. With the per-vaccine cost for the Centre at ₹150, it is enough to vaccinate 1 billion people, the official said.
Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Delhi said they will inoculate those between 18 and 45 years free of cost.
The official said the new policy will be useful to states facing localized crisis and want to fast track the vaccination process. “The Centre cannot discriminate and say that because Maharashtra is doing badly, you give them more vaccines and because another state is handling covid very well, we will not give them more vaccines and they be at risk. Now that the window is open to states, they can purchase vaccines if they want,” he added.
Many states, however, have criticized the Centre’s new vaccination policy. “The central government has abdicated its responsibility of ensuring universal vaccination. The new policy will create serious strain on state finances, chaos in vax procurement, escalation of prices and exclusion of the poor. Net result would be prolongation of the calamity,” Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac tweeted on Wednesday.
The official hinted that the new vaccination policy only opens the window for direct purchase of jabs by states, but doesn’t make it mandatory. “What the new policy will do is to ensure that if any state government is keen to take supply of their own, they are permitted. If any industrialist wants to pay the market price and get it, let him get but government supply will continue and we have almost finished our priority group,” he said.
Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech have announced the pricing for states and private hospitals. While Covishield will cost ₹400 for states and ₹600 for private hospitals, Covaxin is priced at ₹600 and ₹1,200, respectively.
Former chief economic adviser in the finance ministry Arvind Subramanian on Saturday tweeted that jabs should be available to all free of cost. “The Centre not states should bear full fiscal cost of vaccines. Why? Virus does not respect state borders. Centre has better access to resources than states. Fiscal costs are trivial compared to lives saved and economic activity preserved.” he added.
A query to the health ministry didn’t elicit any response till press time.