The New Vaccine Strategy May Widen Inequality

Synopsis: The new vaccine strategy fails to address the issues of affordability and accessibility. It may contribute to widening inequality in access to  health care.

Background
  • Recently, the Centre revised its vaccine strategy to accelerate its vaccination drive to bring the Second wave Covid 19 under control.
  • The revised strategies are,
      1. One, Vaccine coverage is now been extended to the entire adult population i.e., Population above 18 years of age.
      2. Two, vaccine market has been deregulated. Vaccine manufacturers can now sell 50% of their vaccine production to State governments and private hospitals, and the prices can be higher than the price fixed by the government.
      3. Three, a grant of ₹45 billion to the two vaccine manufacturers, the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, to boost their capacities. Note, there has been no formal announcement of the grant till now.
  • However, the newly revised vaccine strategy fails to address many critical issues, such as Universal vaccination, responsibility of a welfare state, affordable life-saving drugs etc.,
What are the issues with the new vaccine strategy?
  • First, issue of demand-supply mismatch due to the expansion in the coverage of the vaccine-eligible population.
  • India faces vaccine shortages mainly due to the following issues,
      • One, lack of vision led to the policy of ‘Vaccine diplomacy’. India promised exports of vaccines to 95 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia instead of securing Vaccines for its own population.
      • Two, the inability of Indian vaccine manufacturers to increase production capacity because of the following two reasons,
          1. Lack of access to essential raw materials to produce vaccines from the U.S. a few days back, the US restricted the Export of essential materials under its Defense Production Act.
          2. Lack of financial capacity to expand vaccine production. Vaccine manufacturers are requesting a grant of ₹30 billion from the government.
  • Second, the issue of affordability and accessibility to vaccines.
      • The center had shifted its responsibility to states to procure vaccines for the population aged above 18 years to 45 years.
      • Whereas the centre will support vaccination only for people above 45 years, and healthcare workers, and frontline workers.
      • Further, the government has not fixed the prices of vaccines that are to be sold to the state government and private agencies. This has given rise to the following issues,
        1. One, increase in vaccine pricing due to fragmentation of the market into three layers namely, central, State, and private hospitals. Earlier, the role of center as a single central procurement agency helped in limiting the price of vaccines.
        2. Two, it may result in inequitable access to vaccines across States owing to disparities among states’ financial capacity. Further, many State governments may find it difficult to procure the required number of vaccine doses to meet the demands of the targeted population.
  • Third, the issue of public money involved in Vaccine production without considerable benefits to the society at large.
      • The government provides ₹45 billion to the two vaccine producers in India for expanding their production capacities. It is questionable.
Way forward

We can tackle the issue of affordability of vaccines by ensuring a competitive market for vaccines. More open licensing for vaccine manufacturers to scale up production would enhance competition in the market. It would enable the vaccines to reach every citizen in the country.

Source: The Hindu

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