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Monday, May 17, 2021

Price, distribution: States want clarity from Centre

Given the limited doses available, some Opposition states have red-flagged differential pricing and the silence of the Centre on how private manufacturers will decide on distribution.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi |
Updated: April 25, 2021 7:36:22 am
covaxin, coronavirus vaccine, Haffkine Pharmaceutical, india news, indian expressCovaxin has been manufactured by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech. (File)

In the run-up to the next phase of vaccination beginning May 1 for all above 18, state governments and private hospitals, which have to procure directly from the 50% basket in the open market, have begun placing orders and drawing their specific roadmaps.

Given the limited doses available, some Opposition states have red-flagged differential pricing and the silence of the Centre on how private manufacturers will decide on distribution.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel Saturday wrote to the Union Health Minister that all states should get the vaccine at the same price; that the Centre should use price-control measures and the Bureau of Pharma PSUs of India (BPPI) to keep the vaccine price at a minimum; and a mechanism should be created to collect vaccines from BPPI. The Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Kerala have written to the Centre too.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Chhattisgarh Health Minister T S Singh Deo said: “There is no justification for having two prices for governments. The only difference is the name: one is Central government and the other state government. Both are constitutional bodies…Tomorrow, will Centre and states purchase petrol at different rates?”

“When Astra Zeneca transferred the technology for vaccine production, the rationale was that developing and underdeveloped countries get it at a cheaper price. This was the rationale of Covax. They are defying that rationale by having prices that are high world prices and a price differential…I am sure the Government of India would have been aware of this and prepared for (it) by having budgeted Rs 30,000 crore for vaccination. If these things were known, then why the sudden backing out? Why is the government backing out from the commitment it made publicly to the nation,” Deo said.

Deo raised concerns that in the absence of a mechanism on the distribution of vaccines from the 50% basket, certain states and hospitals may corner more doses. “For the 50% (in the open market), the Centre has not made quota on how much will the state government access and how much will private hospitals get. If we leave it open, why will the private vaccine manufacturer give it to the state government at Rs 400 when the private hospitals are willing to pay Rs 600?” he said.

“If we leave it open, then those who have greater approach to these manufactures or those who can put more pressure on them will get more doses…Remdesivir was so short in supply until the Centre decided on state-specified quotas. The manufactures have been directed to send specific quotas to states. It should be similar here otherwise issues related to vaccine equity will emerge,” Deo said.

Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja echoed similar concerns. She said states have not been given an explanation about why they will have to pay Rs 400 as compared to Rs 150, the price earlier negotiated by the Centre. “In Kerala, in all government hospitals, patients are receiving free Covid-19 treatment. For that, we need huge financial resources. That’s why we have been able the mortality rates under control. The Centre should provide free vaccine for government use,” Shailaja said.

Shailaja also flagged there could be a “panic situation” on vaccine availability from May 1 and that the Centre should “rethink its policy”. “States are not producing the vaccines. Population registry is with the Centre. The Central government should have calculated what amount of vaccine that states will need in the future,” she said.

Rajasthan Health Minister Raghu Sharma cited similar concerns over the absence of information on doses available to the states. “Either the Centre or the manufacturer should have informed the states how many doses they can provide. And what’s the time frame in which they can cover this new category. Only then we can begin planning,” Sharma said.

From May 1, Covid vaccines will continue to be free for eligible population group — Health Care Workers, Front Line Workers and population above 45 — in all those government vaccination centres which receive doses from the 50 per cent basket supplied by the Centre. Everyone above 18 will receive shots from the balance 50 per cent available from the open market, from where states and private hospitals have to procure their stocks.

On Saturday, the Centre held a meeting with the states on the roll-out from May 1. It told the states to register additional private vaccination centres; monitor hospitals that have procured vaccines and declared stocks and prices on Cowin; and prioritize decision regarding direct procurement of vaccines by state governments.

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