Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday announced that his government will provide free coronavirus vaccines to everyone above 18 from May 1, when India’s third phase of inoculation begins.

“All of us can that see that Covid-19 has wreaked havoc across the country and everyone feels that vaccination is the only way to defeat this disease,” Kejriwal said, adding that his government had approved the purchase of 1.34 crore vaccines this morning. “We will make an effort to ensure that it is purchased soon and administered at the earliest to people.”

The chief minister also urged vaccine manufacturers to bring down their prices to Rs 150 per dose. “You have an entire lifetime to earn profits,” he said. “This is not the time to do that when there is a raging pandemic. I also appeal to the Central government to cap the price [of vaccines] if needed.”

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. But both vaccines will be priced at Rs 150 per dose for the central government.

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.

But the Centre has dismissed these arguments as patently false. “The actual situation is that states are getting one guaranteed channel of free vaccine supply, while it can simultaneously procure vaccines from another channel as per its aspirations and commitment to its people,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Kejriwal added that new vaccines should soon be developed for children too as many of them have been getting infected lately. “We’ve seen children below 18 getting infected too,” he said, adding that some have even died. “It’s time to think for them too. If these vaccines are safe and effective for them, they should be given these. If not, then I hope new vaccines will be developed soon that will be effective and safe for children.”

Free vaccination

The Gujarat and Odisha governments had also announced on Sunday that they would provide vaccines free of cost for those above 18 from May 1.

Besides these states, the governments of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Sikkim, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Haryana have made similar announcements.

More than 13.94 crore shots of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the country so far, while nearly 2.15 crore beneficiaries have received both the shots, according to government data.

The second wave has battered the health infrastructure in the country as cases continue to rise steadily. On Monday, India reported a record-breaking 3,52,991 new cases in a day, taking the total number of infections since the pandemic broke out in January 2020 to 1,73,13,163. This is the highest ever single-day rise in cases reported by any country so far, and the fifth consecutive day when the country has set such a grim global record. For the first time, 2,812 deaths were registered. The toll is now 1,95,123.

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