Jharkhand, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Goa on Thursday joined the list of states that will provide free vaccinations against the coronavirus to people aged 18 years and above. Seven other states – Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Sikkim and Assam – have already made similar announcements.
Everyone above 18 years of age can get vaccinated from May 1 in the Indian government’s third phase of inoculation. Only those over 45 and frontline workers were being vaccinated against the disease so far. All Indian adults can register to get their vaccine on the government’s Co-WIN portal or the Aarogya Setu app from April 28.
The Himachal Pradesh government took the decision during a state Cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, reported PTI. After the meeting, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Suresh Bhardwaj told reporters that the decision was made keeping in mind the welfare of the general public. Bhardwaj, however, also said that it would be a huge burden on the exchequer.
The free doses will be provided in government health institutions, the minister added.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said in a tweet that his government was working day and night to help people during this period of severe infection. “I am confident that with the cooperation of all, we will beat corona[virus] again,” he said.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said his government made the decision during a Cabinet meeting to review the state’s preparedness for coronavirus. In a bid to contain the spread of the infection, Singh said that the government has decided to enforce the existing restrictions in the state strictly and closely watch the daily case count.
Expecting a limited vaccine supply at the beginning, the Punjab chief minister also formed an “expert group” to suggest prioritisation in the inoculation process in the 18-45 age group, reported The Indian Express. The expert group will form a vaccination strategy and submit the plan to the state government within a week.
Besides the decision to provide free inoculation, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said that his government will place an order of 5 lakh Covid-19 vaccine shots initially from the manufactures. He said that overall, 15 lakh vaccine shots will be purchased at the cost of over Rs 60 crore.
On Thursday, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had asked Modi to reverse the new coronavirus vaccine distribution policy, saying that the goal of the country should be to inoculate everyone above 18 regardless of their economic circumstances.
Under the third phase of the inoculation drive, vaccine manufacturers can sell half their vaccines to state governments and the private hospitals. The Centre said it will provide vaccines free of cost for only the first 30 crore vulnerable persons. After that, vaccines will not be subsidised as they are being at present.
The Centre had also liberalised and deregulated vaccine prices, which means the cost of getting inoculated will vary in each state. Unless the states subsidise the shots, the doses are also likely to get very expensive, a decision that has drawn criticism from some experts and opposition parties, including the Congress.
The Centre had asked manufacturers to declare prices for 50% supply that would be available to state governments and in the open market before May 1. The Serum Institute of India’s coronavirus vaccine Covishield will be sold at Rs 400 a shot to state governments and Rs 600 to private hospitals. The Pune-based company will sell Covishield doses to Centre at Rs 400 per dose once the current purchase order ends. Earlier, the Centre used to get it at Rs 150 each, making it the cheapest available option if one gets a shot from a government hospital.
India is currently battling a ferocious second wave of the coronavirus. On Friday, India reported a record-breaking 3,32,730 new cases, taking the total number of infections to 1,62,63,695 since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. This is also the highest ever single-day rise in cases reported by any country so far. For the first time, 2,263 deaths were recorded. The toll rose to 1,86,920.
Several states of India are also facing a shortage of vaccine supplies though the Centre has said there is no such scarcity.
So far, two vaccines – one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and the other developed by Bharat Biotech – are being used in India. Both the vaccines are being manufactured within the country by domestic firms. While the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine, locally known as Covishield, is being manufactured by Serum Institute of India, the indigenously developed Covaxin is being manufactured by Bharat Biotech.
A third vaccine Sputnik V – developed in Russia and to be imported and sold in India by Dr Reddy’s Laboratories – has also been approved by the Indian drug regulator.