A sense of weariness is creeping into the public mind as the Centre has been inexplicably dragging its feet on laying down a transparent policy for universal vaccination within a specific timeframe. Even as several States have opted for the lockdown to check the spread of the deadly virus, the absence of any concrete steps from the Union government to ramp up the inoculation drive would only end up neutralising the gains. In a situation where the danger of a resurgence of the virus can be avoided only if the whole population is vaccinated quickly, it is perplexing that the Centre has not yet come up with any definite policy to ensure vaccination for all free of cost. In fact, the pace of inoculation has slowed down. In the last one week, the daily vaccination rate has fallen to 1.3 million doses. This is despite India not exporting the vaccines now. Several State governments were forced to suspend vaccination for the age group 18-44 years. This rationing was inevitable when vaccine eligibility was expanded way beyond the available production capacity. Unfortunately, there was no advance planning on the part of the Centre as far as ramping up the vaccine production and formulating distribution protocols are concerned. According to the official data, on average, only about 2.7 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines are being produced a day. The Serum Institute is producing 65 million doses of Covishield a month while Bharat Biotech is making 20 million doses of Covaxin a month.
This is grossly insufficient to cover a major chunk of the population by the year-end. The only solution is to raise vaccine and vaccine-ingredient capacity, even as global efforts are on to lift intellectual property restrictions on vaccines. By leaving the task of vaccine procurement from the market to the States, the Centre has virtually abdicated its responsibility. In countries which have done well in the vaccination coverage, including the United States, the procurement of vaccines was done centrally while distribution was decentralised. A similar model needs to be replicated here. This will include procurement from domestic manufacturers, as also imports from abroad. Providing vaccination free of cost nationally should be the top priority of the government now. The cost-benefit analysis shows that supplying free vaccines would be a far better proposition compared to the huge dislocation costs being incurred due to the pandemic, loss of livelihood for millions of daily wage-earners and migrants, loss of millions of salaried jobs and acute shortages. It makes no sense to ask the States to arrange such supplies from the global market. Not surprisingly, Moderna, the American vaccine maker, has refused to sell the Covid-19 vaccine to Punjab, saying it will not deal with States directly.