INDIA has taken a decisive step forward in its battle against Covid-19 by liberalising the vaccination drive that has been progressing in fits and starts ever since its launch in mid-January. All citizens above 18 years of age will be eligible for the jab from May 1. Several Opposition parties and state governments had been demanding the opening of the vaccination programme for all adults in view of the spiralling caseload, but the Centre took its time before doing the needful. From next month, vaccine manufacturers would be free to supply 50 per cent of the doses to the states and in the open market. The move is aimed at ensuring that there is no shortage of the vaccine in any part of the country. With tens of crores of young people set to converge on vaccination centres soon, the Central government and pharma companies will find themselves under increasing pressure to provide adequate vaccine stocks.
India has followed in America’s footsteps by deciding to make the vaccine available for all adults, but the two nations are poles apart in terms of their vaccination trajectory. In the US, 40 per cent of the population has received at least one shot, while 25 per cent people have been fully inoculated. The corresponding figures for India are a dismal 8 per cent and 1.3 per cent, respectively.
The government has reportedly approved a payment of about Rs 4,500 crore as advance to vaccine makers Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech for future supplies. This grant will help both of them ramp up their production capacity in anticipation of the imminent rise in demand. Along with the fast-tracking of emergency approvals for foreign-produced coronavirus jabs, the Centre is said to be keen on waiving 10 per cent customs duty levied on imported vaccines. Such moves can facilitate the availability of a variety of safe and affordable vaccines in India shortly. With greater decentralisation, the vaccination drive is expected to gain much-needed momentum, provided the authorities are able to minimise vaccine wastage and prevent hoarding.
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