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Sunday, June 13, 2021

As states step up chorus, Centre ‘willing’ to rethink, take over vaccine procurement

Seized of requests, says top official; many gaps in states’ vaccination Jan-March before second wave hit.

Written by P Vaidyanathan Iyer
New Delhi | Updated: June 7, 2021 7:48:06 am
On May 1, the Centre expanded vaccine coverage to the 18-44 age group, opened the market, introduced differential pricing and public-private split in supplies. (Representational)

WITH more and more states asking the Centre to step in after having drawn a blank in global tenders to purchase vaccines and the Supreme Court raising a slew of questions, the Union government is considering reverting to centralised procurement.

On May 1, the Centre expanded vaccine coverage to the 18-44 age group, opened the market, introduced differential pricing and public-private split in supplies.

“If all states want the Union government to centrally procure, we will discuss it. We are willing to consider such a request,” a top government source told The Indian Express Sunday.

The Central government is “seized” of these requests, “will deliberate on this and take an appropriate decision,” the top government source said.

This comes in the backdrop of states across the country planning to ease their lockdown restrictions considerably in the coming fortnight. Until date, India has administered 22.86 crore doses, with 18.38 crore people having received one dose, and 4.48 crore people both the doses.

Given the public health imperative to vaccinate a larger percentage of population as early as possible to reap the benefits of a falling curve — because of large-scale severe localised lockdowns — the number of doses administered every day also needs to be ramped up significantly from the daily average of about 27.5 lakh over the last one week.

The Supreme Court has already asked the Centre to get back with a detailed vaccine road-map and has, over the last few hearings, called the policy to make beneficiaries in the 18-44 age group pay “arbitrary” and “irrational.”

Also raising questions of equity and access over the last four weeks have been Chief Ministers of many states — from Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan to YS Jagan Mohan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh, Naveen Patnaik of Odisha, have spoken in favour of centralised procurement.

BJP veteran Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister, of Madhya Pradesh told The Indian Express that the Centre had to change its “perfect” policy under demands from various states and appealed that all CMs should come together and approach the Prime Minister to form a centralised policy for vaccine procurement.”

Vijayan wrote letters to all non-BJP states and Reddy, too, wrote to several states urging them to speak in a single voice.

In fact, CMs of some states such as Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, Hemant Soren of Jharkhand and Zoramthanga of Mizoram have sought free vaccines.

Acknowledging this chorus, the top government source said that states must reflect on their earlier demands to let them purchase from the open market and directly negotiate with producers.

“Some states were indulging in politics during times of the pandemic even when their on-ground performance was found lacking,” the source said.

According to information compiled by the Union government, some states fared poorly in administering shots.

Data obtained from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare shows they did not use vaccine supplies made available to them every month from January to March fully but kept demanding more.

Among these are Punjab and Telangana which have utilised less than a third of doses made available to them during January-March. But this was also the period when the ferocity of the second wave of Covid-19 had not hit and the guard was lowered across the country.

During this January-March period, the utilisation of vaccines by Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra vis-a-vis availability, for example, was less than 50 per cent. Rajasthan, Kerala, Delhi and Jharkhand administered more than 50 per cent of the doses available with them but still were left with more than 25 per cent of vaccines unutilised.

Even amongst priority groups such as healthcare workers, a couple of states were far below the national average in terms of coverage. Telangana and Punjab have administered the first dose to only 65 per cent and 64 per cent of health workers until June 4, respectively, against the national average of 81 per cent.

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