New Vaccine Policy: Centre’s Course Correction?

Published : Jun 11, 2021 10:12 am | By: M D Sridharan

New Vaccine Policy: Centre’s Course Correction?


While the Opposition claims that due to the intense and sustained pressure from its leaders and parties over centre’s vaccination policy, However, the centre has made a U-turn, the new vaccination policy provides a clear road map for the world’s largest vaccination drive.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on 7th June, 21. The much awaited announcement came as a big relief to millions of Indians and also put to rest all the speculations about the world’s largest vaccination drive which the Modi government has embarked upon since January, 21.

Modi announced that the Centre will take full responsibility for free vaccinations across all age groups and the policy rollback will begin on June 21. Private hospitals, however, can continue procuring 25per cent of the manufactured vaccines and levy a maximum of Rs 150 extra as service charge for administering the jab. Modi also announced the extension of the PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojna scheme till Deepavali, November 4, for 80 crore of the population to avail free foodgrains.

Accordingly from June 21, the Centre will provide vaccines for all citizens above the age of 18 years free of cost. The Centre will procure 75per cent of the vaccines manufactured and give them free to the states. No state in the country will have to bear any cost

Why did the centre reverse the policy?

Earlier, when the virus was at its peak, many Opposition-ruled states and leaders had campaigned furiously till late April for a decentralised regime under which states had the freedom to buy and inoculate. Some states claimed that the centre is delaying the supply of vaccines and demanded they should be allowed to procure the vaccines as per their needs. Many states experienced acute shortage of the vaccines and even suspended vaccination for the younger age group. Many non-BJP chief ministers cutting across party lines urged the Centre to rethink its policy, subsequently the centre heeded to their request and the policy came into effect on May 1, More than a dozen states and two municipal corporations floated global tenders for vaccines. However, the states failed to get a response from international vaccine manufacturers to their global tenders.

The opposition parties alleged that the centre has dropped the ball on  Covid management. As the people suffered, the Supreme Court intervened. The apex Court slammed the centre’s paid Covid-19 vaccination policy for the 18-44 age groups as “arbitrary" and "irrational” and questioned why can’t the centre procure vaccines also for the states? The court pointed out that dual pricing and procurement policy prima facie discriminatory and universal vaccination, including for all 18+, is Centre’ primary responsibility

The Opposition claimed that due to the intense pressure from the state governments for centralised procurement of vaccines and the Supreme Court's sharp posers, the Centre finally heeded to the strong criticism and reversed its vaccination policy. But the fact remains that the toll taken by the second wave which had a devastating effect across the nation has forced the centre to accentuate the pace of vaccination. 

Given how the Centre’s vaccination policy has come under severe criticism amid the fierce second wave, Modi referred to “decades of wait” the country experienced for other vaccines in previous governments in his address to the nation. Modi also emphasized how now amid the pandemic his government had expediting the vaccination drive and also rescuing the state governments.

In April,21 as oxygen panic gripped cities and the daily cases touched 2 lakh mark, the Opposition leaders had attacked Modi’s centralisation policy. The Modi government quickly handed over 50% of vaccine procurement and administration and opened it to the 18-45 age groups. But what followed was utter chaos. Within a month, the same opposition urged the   Centre to procure vaccines for states and distribute them free. As most states failed to evoke response to procure vaccines despite global tenders and also the decentralised model had completed a month by May 31, the centre decided to centralise the vaccine procurement. The centre junked the vaccine guidelines 2.0 that kicked in on May 1, and put in place the Vaccine guidelines 3.0 and decided to buy and give the jabs to the states free of cost.

The changes in the Centre’s vaccination approach have indeed come at the right time. With the second wave is falling but the last two months have shown that dropping the ball has a devastating cost. Now that the vaccine procurement ball is back in the Centre’s court — where it should be — constant vigilance by all stakeholders is required. No one can afford any more fumbling in the vaccination drive, it’s a matter of life and death.

With an aim to inoculate the entire adult population by December 21, the government indicated that more than 2 billion vaccines will be available by the end of 2021. Accordingly, it has ramped up the production capacities which need to be scaled up by nearly four times the current production status. The government placed a fresh order of with Serum Institute of India for 25 crore doses of Covishield and with Bharat Biotech for 19 crore doses of Covaxin.  The Centre has said over the next  five months -- July to December -- Serum Institute of India (SII) will deliver 50 crore shots, Bharat Biotech 38.6 crore, BIO-E 30 crore and Zydus Cadila five crore. It will also receive 10 crore doses of Sputnik V vaccine. Also the Centre is awaiting the trial reports of Genova vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s nasal spray while negotiations are on with foreign companies like Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.