Facing flak for a series of missteps and pathetic handling of the pandemic situation, the Centre should at least now heed the advice of the Supreme Court and revisit its vaccination strategy and go for centralised procurement of vaccines and decentralised distribution within the States. Stepping up vaccination coverage is the only way to arrest the spread of the virus and save lives. Unfortunately, the NDA government’s vaccination policy has been flawed from the beginning, marked by disregard for the needs of the States. As a result, millions of people in the 18-44 age group have been left clueless as to when they will get their jabs. There is a severe shortage of vaccine across the country. By stating that it would purchase only 50% of the vaccine doses and allow vaccine manufacturers to sell the balance directly to the States and private entities at higher prices, the Centre has virtually abdicated its responsibility in ensuring equitable and smooth distribution of vaccines to all. The apex court has rightly pointed out that such a policy amounts to undermining the right to public health, which is an integral element of Article 21 of the Constitution. The Centre should also negotiate the price with vaccine manufacturers to allocate the required quantities of doses to each State. Compelling the States to negotiate with manufacturers on the ground of promoting competition will prove counter-productive to the public interest. It would not be logical to impose the obligation on the States to source vaccines for the 18-44 age group since it will lead to chaos and uncertainty.
Despite being the world’s largest producer of vaccines, it is ironic that India has failed to put in place a mechanism for the speedy delivery of vaccines. With nearly 900 million people being eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, there is a need to increase vaccine supplies manifold, from the current level of 70 million doses a month. Even with aggressive imports and increased production, it will take a couple of years to cover the entire population. At present, there are over 20,000 vaccination centres in the country. The number must be increased substantially. The government should also consider a proposal to buy out the Intellectual Property of Covaxin, the vaccine jointly developed by Bharat Biotech, Indian Council of Medical Research and National Institute of Virology, and throw open access to its know-how to the world and encourage multiple vaccine makers in India to produce that vaccine. On the oxygen front, too, the Centre must take urgent corrective action in view of the exponential increase in the demand for medical oxygen. It is the Centre’s responsibility to ensure that the allocation for every State matches its respective requirement.
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