Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Sunday nudged people who can afford to get coronavirus shots at the rates offered by private vaccination centres to do so. He said it will leave state governments with the burden of providing the vaccines to only those who have not been covered by the Centre’s free vaccine programme or have not chosen to take the shot at private vaccine centres.

“The private and corporate sector route will empower a large number of people to get themselves quickly vaccinated outside the government route,” Vardhan said in a blog post. “In essence, those who can afford to get them at the private and corporate sector rates shall go ahead.”

The health minister’s response came after many states criticised the vaccination policy that will come into effect in the third phase of inoculation from May 1. All citizens above the age of 18 will be eligible for the vaccine in third phase.

On April 19, the health ministry said that vaccine manufacturers will now have to allot 50% of the doses produced to the Centre. The manufacturers will be allowed to sell the remaining 50% to state governments and private organisations in the open market.

Soon after, the Serum Institute of India said that it will sell its Covishield vaccine to states at Rs 400 per shot to state governments and at Rs 600 per shot to private hospitals. Bharat Biotech set the price of its Covaxin shot at Rs 600 per jab for state governments and Rs 1,200 for private hospitals. However, the Centre will continue to procure its share of vaccines at Rs 150 per shot from both the manufacturers.

The Centre’s quota of vaccines is used to inoculate those above 45 years of age, free of cost. The state governments raised objections against differential pricing of vaccines and on having to procure the shots at open market prices to inoculate those in the age group of 18-45.

However, Vardhan in his blog post, dismissed the concerns, calling them “a great deal of misinformation”. He pointed out that the 50% quota of the Centre is eventually transferred to the states. “Hence the allegation that Centre is getting it cheap and states are not is patently false,” Vardhan claimed.

He added that the Centre will provide full support to the states to vaccinate people free of cost as the eligibility criteria to get vaccinated under the Centre’s quota “evolves further”.

He criticised states for raising concerns on the new vaccination policy, suggesting that buying the shots from open markets will allow them to procure them directly from manufacturers and negotiate prices based on volumes.

“They [states] were demanding removal of restrictions on vaccine supplies to them,” Vardhan said, “...This is exactly what the Centre has done by easing the process.”

More than 13.94 crore shots of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the country so far, which is around 10% of the country’s population. Nearly 2.15 crore beneficiaries have received both the shots, according to government data – over 1.5% of the population.

India on Monday reported a record-breaking 3,52,991 new coronavirus cases in a day, taking the total number of infections since the pandemic broke out in January 2020 to 1,73,13,163. The toll also rose by an unprecedented count of 2,812 to 1,95,123.

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