“The states will not have to spend a single penny for the vaccines,” Modi said in his second address to the nation this year and ninth since the pandemic struck.
The move to reverse the decision to allow states to procure 25% of the shots follows below-par vaccination rate in May — when the policy came into effect — and in the wake of more than half a dozen chief ministers writing to the PM calling for central procurement and free vaccination of all adult Indians.
The new policy, which will come into effect in two weeks, will see the Centre procure 75% of all vaccines made in India and distribute them to the states and UTs. The states will have leeway in categorising vulnerable or priority sections such as the 45-plus age group.
The decision will please vaccine makers, who were having to deal with varied demands from states (particularly where production was taking place) and politicians for prioritising supply of shots.
Modi recalled the Centre had launched a free vaccination drive for people above 45 from January 16 and that this was changed only because several states started seeking participation in procurement and also raised questions why all adults were not being made eligible for vaccination.
Officials said the guidelines for vaccination would also set out a procure for states to aggregate private hospitals seeking to be part of the drive and said the Rs 150 cap on charge on vaccines above the price of procurement was a reasonable incentive given the large volumes involved. This would prevent profiteering and increase access and options for those willing to pay. They said vaccination was picking up again — it was 28 lakh on May 31, 24 lakh on June 1, 29 lakh on June 3 and 36.5 lakh on June 4.
Modi defended the government against opposition criticism and said that in the past, India used to get vaccines decades after they were developed abroad. This always resulted in a situation where the country could not even start vaccination while others finished had finished. “By working in mission mode, we raised the vaccination coverage from 60% in 2014 to 90% in 5-6 years. We not only enhanced the speed but also widened the ambit of vaccination,” he said.
The PM used his address to attack the opposition for allegedly spreading vaccine hesitancy, by giving “contradictory statements”, criticising the Centre initially for monopolising vaccine procurement process and then demanding that it take charge and provide the shots for free. “People need to be careful about rumours,” the PM said, referring to misinformation on the vaccination drive.
“People were waiting for their turn in a disciplined way, but several states demanded that vaccine procurement should be decentralised and left to the states. Several questions were raised like why age groups were formed for vaccination. Some people said why only the Centre should fix the age limit and questions were also raised as to why elderly people were being vaccinated first,” he said.
Modi said after initially demanding a role in procurement, states realised the tedious nature of the exercise and changed their minds to again call on the Centre to take responsibility which it now had.
He also expressed grief and sympathy for those who lost their near ones in the second Covid-19 wave. He called on people to retain social distancing and safe practices. “In the history of India, this level of demand for medical oxygen was never experienced,” he added.