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'Finding newer, idle capacities to enhance COVID vaccine production capacity': FM Sitharaman

'Finding newer, idle capacities to enhance COVID vaccine production capacity': FM Sitharaman

In an exclusive interview to Business Today, FM Sitharaman stated the Centre is "also importing vaccines, such as Sputnik V, for domestic production"

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said that the government is identifying "newer, idle capacities" that can be put to use to boost production capacity of COVID-19 jabs to address the issue of vaccine shortage.

In an exclusive interview to Business Today, FM Sitharaman stated the Centre is "also importing vaccines, such as Sputnik V, for domestic production".

"We are finding newer, idle capacities which can be used to enhance production capacity, and coz of which we get more vaccines in June and even more in July. We are also importing vaccines, such as Sputnik V, for domestic production," the finance minister noted.

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The Centre faced flak from all quarters, including Supreme Court, over its vaccine policy, comprising the delay in placing orders for sufficient doses and the confusion caused by states which were also being asked to procure jabs to meet their needs.

On being asked why the government didn't place orders early enough as countries like the US did, FM Sitharaman responded, "As regards not placing orders early, how could we have given vaccines by January 16 unless the entire backlog or stocks with the vaccine producers came in? What they are producing is what is being obtained, and that too is simultaneously being ramped up."

The finance minister further stated that the Centre has been holding negotiations with the vaccine manufacturers since October 2020. She added that Prime Minister Narendra Modi "himself went to the factories of vaccine-makers in Gandhinagar, Pune, and Hyderabad and encouraged them".

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"The inventory they held helped in a big way to launch the vaccination drive on January 16 and inoculate all frontline workers and those above 60 years. The Centre bought these vaccines and distributed them free. In April, we opened up vaccination for the 45-plus segment, again for free in government hospitals. Even these doses were procured and sent by the Centre," FM Sitharaman noted.

She mentioned that there were growing calls since January that the Centre should not purchase COVID-19 vaccines on its own to inoculate people, and that states should take it up themselves.

"I am not holding them responsible, but it was a credible, repeated, loud voice. So, the policy was made in such a way that we take 50 per cent of the vaccines available and keep them going free, and the states take the remaining 50 per cent and do what they want with it. And in this, if a small quantum has to be left for the big hospitals, which can afford to buy and administer it to their patients, that should be opened up-that's exactly what was done. This was a change brought about after loud and clear voices from the state governments," FM Sitharaman stated.