Updated: January 18, 2021 5:51:03 am
A DAY after India began its massive vaccination exercise, the Congress on Sunday raised questions on the vaccine’s pricing and demanded that the government divulge whether it plans to provide free vaccines to all Indians, especially the underprivileged and the poor, and when. The main opposition party said vaccinations are important public service and not a political or business opportunity.
It reminded the government that vaccine development and mass immunisation were neither “events” nor “publicity stunts” and recalled that India had successfully conducted mass immunisation programmes against several life-threatening diseases in the past seven decades since Independence.
The party, however, said it will believe the government’s word when it comes to the vaccine’s safety. Several Congress leaders – the latest being Manish Tewari – had raised questions on the safety, reliability and efficacy of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.
Addressing a press conference, Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said the Prime Minister and the government are refusing to answer questions on whether all Indians or at least the underprivileged and the poor will get free vaccines. “Does the Modi Government not realise that the proportion of people of India classified as poor or BPL (Below Poverty Line) is 28%. Is the government not aware that even as per 2011 census, 31 crore of India’s population comprised SC nd STs? Is the government not aware that nearly 41% of India’s population comprised the Backward Classes? Is the government not aware that 81.35 crore people are eligible for subsidised ration under Food Security Act? Will the SC, ST, BC, OBC, BPL, APL, poor & underprivileged get the corona vaccine free or not? If yes, what is the roll-out plan and by when would the government ensure free vaccination?” he asked.
Surjewala raised questions over the pricing of the two vaccines – Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech and Oxford Covishield vaccine, manufactured by Serum Institute of India Pvt. Ltd – and asked why the government has not put them in the National List of Essential Medicines.
He said the Serum Institute is supplying its vaccine at Rs 200 per dose to the Government of India. AstraZeneca, he said, has committed to supplying the vaccine at no profit. Quoting an article in a foreign news paper, he said, “Belgium has said that the cost of AstraZeneca vaccine for them is around Rs 158.”
“Why should our Government pay more for AstraZeneca Vaccine to the Serum Institute of India, more so in view of their promise to supply the vaccine at no profit?”
As for the Covaxin, he asked why the government should pay Rs 95 more to Bharat Biotech for a vaccine that has been developed with the expertise and experience of Indian Council of Medical Research scientists. “Should the price of such a vaccine not be cheaper than the AstraZeneca-Serum Institute?” he asked.
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