Opinion

Indian states are trying to buy vaccines on their own. But this strategy is not working.

What are the changes in strategies by Indian govt to handle vaccination?

As the failure of Indian federal government in handling COVID 19 situations is being established day by day, the government is sharing the responsibilities to secure vaccine among the states. 

Towards the end of the month of April, the central government has announced two crucial new changes. One of them is, now the vaccine makers can sell half of their stocks to the state governments and private sectors, second one being start of vaccination among the 18-44 years age group.

As TIME was running the headline,  “This Is Hell.” Prime Minister Modi’s Failure to Lead Is Deepening India’s COVID-19 Crisis, on April 23, 2021, Indian health ministry did not have a plan to secure vaccines. People were demanding resignation of the ministers and officials in the government and #WeCannotBreathe was trending in India. But with the new decision, the states are supposed to have the ability to bring vaccines on their own.

In fact, India is the only country that produces COVID-19 vaccines and yet has imposed the burden onto citizens to pay for themselves by opening private markets. No other vaccine- producing country has done this.

Why the decision is not a good idea?

Just after the decision, Serum Institute of India Pvt Ltd declared prices for its Covishield vaccine at Rs 600 /shot for private sectors and Rs 400 /shot for states. Later, after a social media rage, they scaled down to Rs 300. Bharat Biotech International Ltd has priced its Covaxin at a flat Rs 600/dose. If Indians have to buy their own vaccines, they have to spend Rs 1200, which is not an affordable amount for many Indians.

Experts criticized the move by the federal government to allow vaccine makers to sell half of their stock to the states and to the open market directly.

More than 20 states and union territories, including Kerala, Delhi, Maharashtra and West Bengal, have announced that they are making the vaccinations free to either for all or for particular age groups. 

According to DownToEarth, Anjela Taneja, lead (inequality, health, and education) for charity network Oxfam said that “The State governments, which have no prior experience in procuring vaccines, will end up spending 27 per cent of their health budget on an average.”

To sum up, there are two clear problems,

1) The states will have fierce competitions. The richer states with lesser need will get ample vaccines but the poorer states with higher need will struggle to secure that. If the vaccines would have been secured by the central government and distributed according to the need this would have been avoided.

“Indian states left to compete/fight with each other in international market.” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal mentioned on Twitter.

2) On May 23, Reuters reported that Indian state of Punjab was trying to procure the shots themselves from Moderna, but failed.  Moderna has cited the company policy that it does not sell vaccines to any state government or private sector.

According to a statement by Punjab government, Punjab, with a population of more than 2.7 crore, had to stop vaccination for some eligible people because of non-availability of vaccines, having received only about 0.44 crore doses from the federal government.

In the statement, Punjab official Vikas Garg told that the state government had also made approaches regarding the Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Sputnik vaccines but has yet to receive any response. This implies the process will also be a time consuming one.

Some other Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, claimed they also have insufficient supplies to inoculate those aged between 18 and 44.

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