The Centre, The States and The Vaccine
"The Prime Minister’s address to the nation on the 7th of June 2021, with a new vaccination plan, left the nation in a new spirit to fight the second wave of the deadly virus that has been plaguing the world since over a year."
"In its wake, the speech also left the common man questioning the vaccination drive before the announcement and attempting to determine the impact of the announcement that will be seen from June 21st onwards."
Here is what’s happening. THE NEW CHANGES
The very first change that implanted itself in our minds after the speech is that the Central Government at Delhi is now taking the vaccination drive in their hands. The Government is now going to run a centralised vaccination program after several states faced trouble in the procurement and managing of vaccines. It will then be distributed to the States for free administration, mainly on the basis of population, the disease burden and vaccination progress. Although this does mean that the scope of getting in line earlier than the Government decides for you is now difficult because it will be taking charge of 75% of the vaccines made, 25% will still be open to private hospitals to buy and run drives. The Prime Minister also put out that every individual above the age of 18 years, which is the eligibility for vaccination right now, will be vaccinated for free if they get injected from a government run installation.
Citizens getting vaccinated in private hospitals will have to pay, but the hospital cannot exceed an amount of Rs. 150 as service charge.
Another policy that caught the eye was the announcement that electronic vouchers for the economically weaker sections will be approved by the RBI for vaccination support at the private centres.
SO WHAT CHANGED? The change in the policy to be noted here is that previously, citizens in the age group of 18-44 could be vaccinated for free only at the state government centres. The three groups - healthcare and frontline workers and citizens above the age of 45 were vaccinated free of cost at the central government centres only. This policy had been put into effect on May 1st, and the States could procure 25% of the vaccines from the market for the 18-44 age group. This is clearly changing with respect to the new rules to be put into practice on June 21st. The earliest vaccination policy that was in effect from January, only the healthcare workers, frontline workers and citizens above the age of 45 years were eligible for vaccination.
HOW DID THE CHANGES COME ABOUT?
If we look into the televised address of PM Modi, he can be heard saying, as quoted by India Today, “While cases of Corona started declining, different suggestions and demands were made to the Centre. It was asked why the Government of India was deciding everything. Why are the state governments not being given liberty? It was said ‘one size does not fit all’ demanding a change in vaccination policy.”
This had led to a change in the government’s policy as announced on May 1st.
Undeniably, it led to a chaos and race for the vaccines and many states had to shut down the 18-44 age group due to shortage of the injection.
Many believe that there was a disguised jab in the speech where the Prime Minister had justified the change in policy, defending the centre which had been ‘blamed’ for the vaccine chaos.
The most recent change in the vaccine policy, announced just a few days back, came after a nudge from the Supreme Court that described the vaccine policy as ‘arbitrary’ and ‘irrational’. According to a report by Hindustan Times, a 32-page order released by a bench comprising justices Dhananjaya Y Chanrachud, L Nageshwara Rao and S Ravindra Bhatt made clear the disapproval of the apex court of the policy of the Union Government.
There were arguments for and against a Supreme Court intervention on matters concerning the vaccine, but it was rejected by the bench which believed that the Court could not be a silent spectator when the rights of the citizens were being breached.
According to various experts and analysts, the policy rolled out on May 1st, placed a financial burden on states, who were to procure vaccines from the market and private players on their own budgets for administration to the 18-44 age group. The Central Government had become a monopolistic buyer and was getting vaccines at a cheaper price than the states, and it was a cause of worry for financially distressed states and union territories. The Centre countered saying that it was a step to attract private vaccine manufacturers to India, but very clearly, it has backfired.
At present, three vaccines - Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik are being administered in India.
(Written by Purvi Agarwal)