Former Health Secretary K Sujatha Rao has criticised the government's decision to permit open market sales of COVID-19 vaccines before India has sufficient supply of vaccines.
In a series of tweets over the last couple of days, Rao has been warning against the opening up of vaccine administration without proper planning to ensure adequate supplies and pricing mechanisms. "The vaccine policy announced yesterday is completely biased towards pharma companies. It has neatly shifted the confusion and chaos that will emerge from May 1st away from itself and towards the state governments to answer. Never seen such abdication of a fundamental duty," she tweeted on April 20.
On April 19th - the day when the Central government announced that a Liberalised and Accelerated Phase 3 Strategy of COVID-19 Vaccination programme will start from May 1 - she had said that the 'procurement of vaccines by states is not a good idea' and the Central government must rethink its decision. "It will be a mess," she had warned.
However, she had welcomed the move to make all persons above the age of 18 eligible for the vaccination. The only issue she flagged was that "supply will compel prioritisation". She had asked the government to conduct sero surveillance surveys to get positivity rate among age groups. She also expressed concern over the decision of the Centre to ask state governments to buy the vaccine directly from the vaccine manufacturers as quality assurance capacity is weak in some states. Stating that this needs to be sorted out, she warned of the possibility of price hike of vaccines and resultant access barrier to millions of people.
In fact Rao was one among several others who had expressed the same concerns. For instance, Thomas Isaac, finance minister of Kerala tweeted that the central government "has abdicated its responsibility of ensuring universal vaccination". "The new policy will create serious strain on state finances, chaos in vaccine procurement, escalation of prices and exclusion of the poor. Net result would be prolongation of the calamity," Isaac said.
On April 19, a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to allow COVID-19 vaccination for everyone above 18 from May 1 onwards. It was also decided that vaccine manufacturers would supply 50 per cent of their monthly doses to the central government and would be free to supply the remaining doses to state governments and in the open market. Manufacturers were asked to make an advance declaration of the price for 50 per cent supply that would be available to state governments and in the open market, before May 1. "Private Vaccination providers shall transparently declare their self-set vaccination price. The eligibility through this channel would be opened up to all adults, i.e. everyone above the age of 18," the vaccine policy of the government said.
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