Free vaccination is fundamental right of the people

While political row over Covid vaccination drive is unfortunate, the government of India should launch it free of cost and without further delay.

V S Pandey

For past several days the emergency use authorization granted to covishield and covaxin vaccines by India’s drug regulator has been in the news with serious questions being raised over lack of publicly on the efficacy data for Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. Although certain experts have voiced concerns about the approval process, the Drug Controller General of India, has however clarified that the vaccine is “safe and provides robust immune response”. He further clarified that the approval for this vaccine has been given even as “the clinical trial ongoing within the country, by the firm, will continue.” The Drug controller is the legally authorized and competent authority to grant approval for usage of drugs and vaccines and we all are using those medicines only for years. In an emergency situation like the current pandemic, there is no reason to suspect any wrong doing on the regulator’s part when he himself has guaranteed the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
Our country, like the rest of the world, has been waiting for vaccinations to begin at the earliest to get back to the pre-covid days and resume a normal way of life. Undoubtedly, the devastation caused by this pandemic has been unprecedented and it may take years for most countries to get back on their feet. Even after the arrival of the vaccines, many countries are back with imposition of lockdowns. Our country due to various reasons, which are still being debated and jury is out, did succeed in containing the spread of the corona virus with fewer losses of life compared to many rich and medically advanced countries. But despite emergency use authorisation approval granted to two vaccines Covishield and Covaxine, vaccination is yet to begin in India.
As per newspaper reports, the government is yet to finalize the vaccine procurement price to be paid to the vaccines manufacturers. In addition to that, the government is still in the process of deciding whether people will be made to pay for getting the vaccine shots or it will be delivered free. It is surprising that government is thinking about making people pay for vaccination. We as a country have been administering vaccination programmes totally free to all those who required them over the last several decades. This question never arose in any way anywhere in the governmental system ever. Unfortunately, this issue has totally politicised the vaccination programme and several state governments are now promising free vaccination to their population to gain political mileage. Some political leaders made extremely irresponsible statements by linking the vaccine with a particular party. These are very unfortunate developments for our polity when an innocuous issue like covid vaccination has become highly politicised. This must stop and the central government must make it clear to all that as in the past, the entire population will get the shots totally free at the earliest. This will be kind of slap on the face of those who wanted to derive political benefit from the covid situation.

Similarly, the government before fixing the price to be paid to the vaccine manufacturers, must get the costing data from them to arrive at a reasonable rate of procurement. Those who are in the know of things about manufacturing cost of vaccines, are certain that it costs a fraction of the amount being quoted by the Indian vaccine manufacturers. Those who invested in manufacturing the vaccines before they got the nod from the Chief Drug Controller of India and hence took great investment risk, need to be rewarded, but covid pandemic situation should not be allowed to take the nation for a ride. Like any other purchases that the government makes, costing of these vaccines should also be examined honestly and procurement price fixed accordingly. It should be made a win-win situation for both sides on the table. Fixing of exorbitant price, as is being demanded by manufacturers, will be against national interest.
Many countries like USA, England, European countries, and others are already on road to immunise their population. India being the largest manufacturer of vaccines and sitting with millions of ready vaccines doses, should expedite the vaccination process urgently. Our system is used to undertaking massive immunisation programmes in the past also. Our governmental machinery has the capability to roll out the nation level vaccination programme without any hitch. The Central government needs to set up a robust implementation monitoring mechanism along with standard operating procedures and ensure that the vaccination programme implementation is done in collaboration with state governments. Any further delay in delivery of vaccine shots is going to cost the nation dearly. Our economy has suffered massively due to the pandemic, and now the time has come to rebuild our economy and our people’s confidence in our government’s capabilities.

(Vijay Shankar Pandey is former Secretary Fertilisers, Government of India)

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