Four Congress-ruled states – Rajasthan, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand – on Sunday said they will not be able to start vaccinating all adults from May 1 because the Centre had allegedly hijacked vaccine stocks from manufacturers, leaving very little for them.

Rajasthan Health Minister Raghu Sharma said when the state government reached out to the Serum Institute, which manufacturers Covishield, they were told that no vaccines were available till May 15.

He was speaking during a press conference of health ministers from the four states, T Singh Deo from Chhattisgarh, Balbir Singh Sidhu from Punjab and Banna Gupta from Jharkhand.

“We were told that the Serum Institute will not be able to give us any dose till May 15 because it would be busy delivering the orders booked by the Centre,” Sharma said. “So the question is, if the states want to procure vaccines directly, what is the process? The question before us is, we have 3.13 crore people in the 18-45 age group, how will we vaccinate them?”

The Centre has announced that it will let all citizens over 18 have Covid-19 vaccinations from May 1 as the country’s health system creaked under the weight of record-high cases. According to the new rules, the states will get a share of vaccines from the central government, but will need to buy directly from the vaccine producers to acquire more shots at a pre-determined price.

India is currently using two vaccines for its inoculation drive, the Serum Institute’s Covishield, which is the local version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and another home-grown shot by Bharat Biotech, known as Covaxin.

As per the new rates, Covaxin will cost Rs 600 per dose for state governments and Rs 1,200 for private companies, while the Covishield will be sold at Rs 400 a shot to states and Rs 600 to private buyers starting May 1.

‘An elaborate joke’

All four health ministers said they were prepared for the next phase of vaccinations, but the manufacturers had expressed their inability to provide them doses.

They said that despite Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand governments deciding to bear the full cost of vaccinating adults amid an economic crisis, and despite them offering to make advance payments, the manufacturers were not committing to deliver sufficient vaccines.

“There is no way vaccination can be given if the vaccine is not available,” Sidhu said. “The situation is very clear. The Centre is saying that vaccinations have been opened to all…but vaccines are not available”.

The Punjab minister alleged the Centre was misleading the entire country. “In a way, an attempt is being made to put the burden on the states and discredit them,” he said.

The situation in Punjab, Sidhu said, was already very critical. “We are practically hand to mouth,” he said. “The state has only been given 34 lakh doses, out of which 30 lakh have already been spent. We only have four lakh doses right now.”

Deo from Chhattisgarh alleged the Narendra Modi government was playing an elaborate joke on everyone, and said that the entire vaccination strategy was flawed and hastily executed.

“Currently we are producing close to seven crore vaccines both including Covishield and Covaxin,” he said. “If half of this goes to the Centre, then only 3.5 crore doses are available for the states to vaccinate those above 18 years. The 18-45 years category is at least 35-40% of our population. Just 3.5 crore doses for them... this is a joke!”

Deo added that it was not just the Congress governments who were struggling. Deo said he had heard that Assam too was told that it would get vaccines only after a month, when it tried placing orders.

“So where is the question of unrolling the vaccines for the 18-45 group from May 1 onwards?”

Jharkhand Health Minister Gupta said the Centre should have thought through the supply lines, quota for each state, manufacturing capacities and other modalities before opening up the vaccines for all.

He added, “We want to vaccinate, but will we make vaccines in our homes?”

‘Step-motherly treatment’

The ministers of the four states also accused the Centre of meting out “step-motherly treatment” toward the Opposition-ruled states in terms of differential pricing of the vaccines, release of critical medicines like Remdesivir and oxygen supply.

“The prime minister is politicising everything and we have to fight a dual battle of saving people from coronavirus and fighting politics,” Gupta said. “The Centre has hijacked their [firms’] production capacity and struck a deal for Rs 150 per dose.”

The Jharkhand minister added, “The government that talks of one constitution, one tax, are now trying to derive benefits out of the pandemic by different pricing of vaccines.”

Citing the example of Rajasthan, Sharma said with 1.37 lakh active cases the State’s quota of oxygen is only 140 metric tonnes, while Gujarat with a little over one lakh active cases has a quota of over 900 metric tonnes.

“Similar problems arose in the case of Remdesivar,” he said. “Our order was cancelled at the last minute. Then the Centre decided to give us Remdesivar according to their whims. We got 26,000 doses while our neighbour Gujarat got one lakh doses.”