Almost five months after the nationwide vaccination programme was launched, the Central government’s vaccine policy remains a work in progress. On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Centre would buy 75 per cent of the jabs from vaccine makers for free supply to the states, while private sector hospitals would continue to procure 25 per cent of the shots. It was a dressing-down from the Supreme Court last week that roused the Centre to do course correction. Justice DY Chandrachud had reminded the Union government of its constitutional duty during a national crisis to procure vaccines for the entire country. Thus, things are back to square one after the largely unproductive month of May in which various states tried in vain to procure vaccines on their own. Centralised procurement was a no-brainer from the outset. Letting states do the job only led to chaos and confusion amid the devastating second wave of the pandemic.
Universal free vaccination is still elusive as private sector hospitals have been allowed to charge a maximum of Rs 150 per dose over the pre-fixed price. This disparity rankles, even as it would be a challenge to ensure that the price cap is not breached by unscrupulous elements. With the second wave clearly ebbing, the time is ripe to improve the vaccination rate so that a sizeable proportion of the population has a protective shield against the third wave, as and when it strikes.
India has managed to fully vaccinate barely 3 per cent of its citizens, way behind the US and the UK (both around 41 per cent). Even Brazil (11 per cent) and Russia (9 per cent) are ahead. The present breather should be utilised to address vaccine shortage, especially factoring in the distinct possibility of inoculation of children in the coming months. The vaccine policy should be fine-tuned once and for all as frequent chopping and changing can be counterproductive. The target of inoculating 100 crore people by December-end is a distant dream. The government is well advised to focus on short-term goals and take things to the next level only when these are achieved.
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