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A pragmatic vaccine policy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a centralized COVID-19 vaccine procurement policy was much needed, and its implementation will reduce the burden on the states.

Modi

Sentinel Digital Desk

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement of a centralized COVID-19 vaccine procurement policy was much needed, and its implementation will reduce the burden on the states. The new policy envisages the Central government will purchase 75 per cent of vaccines from vaccine manufacturing companies and provide the vaccines free to the state and the manufacturers will be able to sell 25 per cent of production to private hospitals and other private entities. The Prime Minister announced that starting from June 21, the Government of India will provide free vaccines to States for the age group of 18 years and above. The new policy implies that the Central government will now be responsible for vaccine procurement and COVID-19 vaccines will be available for free of cost to all above 18 years plus in government vaccination centres. Capping a single-dose vaccine charge at Rs 150 by private hospitals will also be a huge relief for the beneficiaries. Vaccine supplies and equitable distribution to all states under the new policy will be a great challenge that the Central government must overcome to achieve the objective of the new policy. Making correct projection of vaccine demands and increasing production will be crucial. For many states, mobilizing the required fund for procurement of vaccine was not a problem but getting supplies from the manufacturers was difficult which led to a shortage of required doses. One state had to compete with other states as well as with private entities for getting supplies vaccines for 18 plus category against advance order and payment. The Central government was continuing to provide the states with entire vaccine doses for the 45 plus category and 50 per cent of the 18 plus category free of cost. The states are currently procuring 50 per cent of its requirements for 18 plus category from the manufacturers. The experiment of tweaking vaccine strategy and passing on the burdens of procurement of 50 per cent of supplies for 18 plus category in the government route to the states created confusion and most of the states being forced to stop vaccination of the first dose due to failure of the manufacturers to supply. The Prime Minister's assurance that the supply of vaccine is going to increase in the coming days has triggered hopes of the timely administration of second doses and expediting the first shots to more people in the country. As several states have started unlocking, ramping up vaccination is crucial to break the transmission of the virus and prevent a possible third wave of the pandemic from turning as devastating as the current second wave or more lethal. India has to date given the first dose to 18.65 crore people and the second dose to 4.62 crores. This means that of 23.27 crore people who have received COVID vaccines only 4.62 crores have been fully vaccinated which speak volume of the slow pace of vaccination in the country is surely a cause of worry of the majority of the citizens still without the protective shield of vaccination against virus infection. Now that worry of vaccine procurement has been shouldered by the Central government, the states will be able to focus on streamlining the vaccination schedules for both online and walk-in modes. Transparency and wide publicity on vaccination centres and actual status on availability on daily basis can address the problem of overcrowding. In his address to the nation, the Prime Minister also announced government extension of free ration distribution under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana till Diwali. This will provide relief to 80 crore beneficiaries living Below Poverty Line. Lockdowns, curfew, containment zones slowing down the wheels of the economy the life of these marginalized and downtrodden families have become more miserable in the current wave of the pandemic, and this justifies the rationality of continuing the scheme. Money earmarked by the states for vaccine procurement can be utilized to provide relief to daily wage earners, small traders, auto, cab, rickshaw drivers, marginal farmers whose miseries have compounded due to enforcement of partial lockdowns and containment. Heart-wrenching tales of many such families struggling to make both ends meet due to loss of income make it imperative for the state to create an ecosystem of support and compassion so that no one is left behind. Irrespective of vaccination, proper wearing of safe facemasks and maintaining the physical distances in the public will have to be rigorously followed and the states must continue to enforce the COVID-appropriate behaviour to prevent the outbreak of fresh infections. States must be watchful against lowering the guards and testing must remain the most reliable method of surveillance for early detection and isolation of the infected to prevent a spread in the community. Flattening the pandemic curve is a must so that the economies can reopen. This is not possible without the people playing a proactive role in breaking the transmission.

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