The Kerala Assembly on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution urging the Centre to provide free Covid-19 vaccines to all the states in a timely manner, amid shortages of doses in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic, PTI reported.

Kerala Health Minister Veena George, who moved the resolution in the Assembly, said free universal vaccination was required to ensure that all sections of the society are protected from the infection.

George also highlighted that the coronavirus crisis had weakened the country’s economy. “If we could take necessary steps for speeding up the vaccination, it would help the economy also,” she added, according to the news agency.

The Kerala health minister criticised the Centre’s Covid-19 vaccination policy. “In earlier times, free vaccines to combat dangerous infectious diseases was adopted as a national policy,” George said, reading out the resolution, according to Onmanorama. “However, the Centre is taking steps that are contrary to our usual practice. Instead of providing free vaccines, the Centre is now asking states to procure vaccines from the market. This is highly condemnable.”

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Members of the Left Democratic Front and Congress-led United Democratic Front backed the resolution but suggested some minor changes to it, PTI reported.

The resolution was passed two days after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to his counterparts in 11 states, requesting them to unitedly ask the Centre to procure coronavirus vaccines and distribute them to states for free.

Vijayan said it was quite unfortunate that the Centre absolved itself of its duty to ensure free universal vaccination. “United effort to jointly pursue our genuine demand is the need of the hour, so that Centre acts immediately,” he added.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren has also criticised the Centre’s decision to leave vaccine procurement to states, saying it was against the principles of cooperative federalism. “This is probably for the first instance in the history of independent India that the states have been mandated to procure vaccines on their own,” he said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.

Several states are facing a shortage of vaccines, which has severely hampered India’s inoculation drive. Many of them have sought to procure vaccines through global tenders or by approaching manufacturers directly. However, some administrations, including in Delhi and Kerala, have said that global vaccine makers refused to coordinate with them.

India’s vaccine strategy

As the fourth phase of inoculation began on May 1, the Central government announced a differential pricing for states, allowing them to buy vaccine doses on their own. Before that, the Centre was procuring and allocating vaccines to states.

In the latest roll out, however, the Centre took responsibility for sourcing only 50% of the doses for what has been categorised as the vulnerable population – those above 45 years, healthcare and frontline workers. This essentially means that vaccinations for all those below 45 years will have to be paid for by the states or by the citizens themselves. The Centre will not pay.

The new “liberalised and accelerated” strategy has been severely criticised. Vaccination rates have fallen steadily nearly every week since early April as many states complained of shortage of doses.