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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Explained Ideas: Why the govt must vaccinate every Indian for free

Government's Covid vaccine policy is a maze of confusion that could doom India’s future prospects, write Shashi Tharoor and Salman Anees Soz.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
April 29, 2021 9:23:04 am
People stand in queue to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, in Kolkata on Wednesday. (Express Photo: Partha Paul)

COVID-19 has unleashed a devastating second wave in India. In their opinion piece in The Indian Express, Shashi Tharoor and Salman Anees Soz of the Indian National Congress, state that the government has proven woefully unprepared for this crisis and warn against the government’s recently announced vaccine policy.

“We can blame hubris or incompetence or a combination thereof for India’s unfolding tragedy. However, it should now be everyone’s goal to shorten the duration of the broader crisis, which won’t remain restricted to this second wave,” they write.

They say a humanitarian and economic catastrophe looms. In this regard, they call the government’s vaccine policy unconscionable and potentially disastrous.

“It will likely create confusion, limit vaccination coverage, breed inequality, and prolong the duration of the crisis,” they state. “Better alternatives are available, which can help save both lives and livelihoods.”

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What should be the goals of a vaccination policy during a global pandemic?

“We believe a good policy will seek to achieve maximum coverage, as close to universalisation as possible and do so as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. We should also account for the institutional capacity to implement such a policy. Given that the pandemic disproportionately impacts poor and low-income families, it is vitally important that the policy also be equitable,” they write. At the current rate, they believe, it may take India two years to vaccinate 75 per cent of the population. The government’s vaccine policy could make things considerably worse as they believe it is “fatally flawed on almost all counts”.

What can be an alternative way to vaccination?

In most major countries, vaccines are being given free to all residents. “In that most capitalist of nations, the United States, even billionaires are getting free vaccines. Not just that, undocumented workers are also part of the free vaccine programme. The easiest way to ensure maximum coverage is to offer vaccines for free to everyone. As such, they propose that all vaccine procurement in India be done by the Union government. Identifying manufacturers, negotiating prices, scheduling deliveries, and executing payments should be handled by the central government. The Centre should also devise a transparent formula for distributing vaccines to individual states, they argue.

Won’t this be costly? No, they say. “The cost of a prolonged crisis will be far more devastating to the economy. In 2020-21, the crisis probably cost us close to Rs 8 trillion in economic output,” they

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