Centre Should Relook its Vaccine Policy

SynopsisThe vaccine policy of the government would enhance the difficulties of states and the vulnerable population. It would give greater benefit to the affluent class and the urban regions. Therefore, the center must relook it in order to make it more equitable.

  • The Centre government has filed an affidavit in Supreme Court with reference to the COVID-19 management case. It has insisted on the continuation of its revamped vaccine policy that was introduced for vaccinating the 18+ population.
  • The policy was revamped after the demand to universalize the vaccination program among all adults came from various states. 
About the Vaccine Policy:
  • The center has put forward a more liberalized policy under which it will procure 50% of the total vaccine production. While the states and private sector will be allowed procurement of 25% each in every state.
  • Each state will get vaccines based on a quota decided by the Centre government and there would be a uniform price of vaccines across all the states.
  • The policy would increase the vaccine maker’s revenue as Covaxin will fetch a weighted price of Rs. 477 per dose. Similarly, Covishield would be priced at Rs. 302 per dose.
    • The weighted average is calculated based on a share of 50% for the Centre, 25% for States, and 25% for the private sector for both vaccines.
Procurement PriceCovaxinCovishield

However, many experts are demanding a relook of this policy as it may not deliver the desired results.

Issues with vaccine policy that demands a relook
  • Firstly, Bias against the Vulnerable population: The private players will sell vaccines at higher prices that may not be affordable for the vulnerable population. Further, the addition of 600 million (18-44 age category) people, has created extreme vaccine shortages thereby leading to more exclusion under the current program.
  • Secondly, Against International Practice: The national government is solely buying the vaccines in every other country. Although there are some exceptions like Indonesia and the Philippines. Here the corporates are allowed to buy internationally, to vaccinate their workers for free.
  • Thirdly, Inconsistent Nature: The policy is based on the principle of liberalization. However, the center is controlling both price and quantity for every State. This is against liberalization.
    • It is also ironic that on one hand, the center is deciding which manufacturer of Remdesivir will sell how much to which State and at what price. 
    • While on the other hand, it is deregulating the Covid vaccine market which currently has just two suppliers.
  • Fourthly, Burden on States: Instead of the full production at zero cost, the States now got one-quarter of the production at twice or more the price paid by the Centre.
  • Fifthly, Problems with Private Participation: It is not clear how to define the private sector in a specific state. Procurement contracts by private participants are done at a corporate level and not by State units. This may benefit large urban areas, where there is a greater presence of the private sector.
Way Forward:
  • Firstly, the centre should procure 100% doses and equitably distribute them among the states. Its ability to give bulk orders allows it to buy vaccines cheaper than States or the private sector.
    • It can increase its procurement price from 154 in order to raise the revenue of vaccine producers. 
    • Further, the companies must be given large long-term orders for 100% of India’s needs. This would enable them to invest more and sell globally.
  • Secondly, the government should also widely licence Covaxin in order to boost production and tackle vaccine shortages. Most of the core work in developing the vaccine was done at the ICMR-NIV in Pune, indicating the use of public funds for development.
  • Thirdly, it should arrange more supplies by negotiating with global suppliers through the diplomatic route. This would also help in converting the idea of the door to door campaign into a reality.
  • Lastly, it should give special interest-free 50-year loans to States in order to bear the additional burden of the vaccine program.

Source: The Hindu.


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