The second wave of COVID-19 infections has shaken the country and is testing the limits and patience of people. With daily cases crossing more than 3.4 lakh and healthcare infrastructure on its knees, vaccination is the only way out to bring the infection under control. But vaccinating such a huge population of India is surely going to be a challenge. In order to vaccinate almost the entire population of the country the Centre has now rolled out Phase 3 of the liberalised and accelerated COVID vaccination programme where everyone above the age of 18 is eligible for getting vaccinated.
In the efforts to vaccinate the population of the country, the cost of vaccinating the 18 to 45 age group should either be taken care of by the State governments or people can pay out from their own pockets to get vaccinated in private hospitals. While many states have lent their helping hand towards the vaccination drive by announcing free vaccines for all adults from May 1, some states on the other hand are worried about the additional burden on their finances.
Just before five days before when the vaccinations are scheduled for everyone above the age of 18 years, four Opposition ruled states on Sunday said that they won’t be able to begin the drive from May 1 as they do not have enough vaccines. The insufficient availability of four Congress-ruled states has led the states to accuse the Central government of “hijacking” the vaccine stocks from the manufacturers and therefore have raised doubts to be able to launch the inoculation drive in their particular states to cover those between 18-45 years of age.
In a virtual joint press conference, the health ministers of Congress and its alliance-ruled states, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Jharkhand (ruled by Congress-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha alliance) raised the questions in order for them to get the answer regarding how they are supposed to vaccinate all adults in the state when the Centre has already “taken away the stocks” which has led to the unavailability of the vaccine shots in the market.
The state governments also clarified the fact that they were all set to start the inoculation drive for the next phase from May 1 in their respective states, but they are unable to do so as the manufacturers have expressed the inability to provide them vaccine shots.
Rajasthan, the state that claimed it is leading the vaccination programme in the country is now facing difficulties during Phase 3 of the vaccination drive. While the Chief Minister of the state, Ashok Gehlot, on one hand, announced the decision to vaccinate all adults in the state free of cost in the state, the state is now facing difficulty to carry forward their inoculation programme.
Rajasthan Health Minister, Raghu Sharma ahead of vaccination drive from May 1 said, “When we spoke to the Serum Institute, we were told by them that it may take till May 15 to fulfill orders placed by the government of India and they won’t be able to deliver vaccines to Rajasthan before it.”
The Health Minister even claimed that the state was only left with two days of vaccine stock and raised questions about the numbers of beneficiaries across India and the vaccine production capacity. He also alleged there’s no supply of an adequate number of doses to the state.
Chhattisgarh is also among one of the states that will be vaccinating people free of cost from May 1. However, the State’s Health Minister Tribhuvaneshwar Saran Singh Deo on Sunday said that the vaccinations cannot be done if doses are not available. He further said, “The state can’t start the drive in the absence of vaccines.”
The Congress-ruled Punjab also expressed its inability to roll out the expanded COVID vaccine drive from May 1 saying all stocks have been pre-booked with none available until May 15. The Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said that no Covishield supplies were available till May 15 as all doses manufactured by the Serum Institute of India are already booked.
Another Congress-alliance ruled state, Jharkhand has also expressed its inability to vaccinate all adults between the age group of 18 to 45 years. Jharkhand Health Minister Banna Gupta said that the Centre should have thought through the supply lines, quota for each state, manufacturing capacities and other modalities before opening up the vaccines for all. He further added, “We want to vaccinate, but will we make vaccines in our homes?”