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Govt should provide free vaccine to everyone

   By Vijay Darda | 26-04-2021

One nation, one vaccine price for everyone is the need of the hour; many states will not be able to buy costly vaccines

Vijay Darda

People are constantly calling our Lokmat office seeking help to secure beds in hospitals, obtain oxygen cylinders from somewhere or arrange some medicine or the other. The situation is horrible. I am pained and anxious to know when will the situation improve? The vaccine rollout has raised hopes, but it is beyond comprehension that when the Central government is buying Covishield for Rs 150, what is the reason for capping its price at Rs 400 for the states and Rs 600 for the private hospitals? The Indian made Covaxin which was being distributed free will now cost Rs 600 to the states and Rs 1200 to private hospitals. When the private hospitals were converted into vaccination centres, it was announced by the Prime Minister that Rs 250 will be the ceiling — Rs 150 towards cost of vaccine plus Rs 100 service charge.

I had written in this column that to speed up the process of vaccination, the government should make the vaccine available in the open market. After that, other people also made similar demands. Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi also wrote letters to the prime minister. Ultimately, the government not only agreed to this, but also rolled back the price cap. I had told my editors then that this would pave the way for serious manipulations in prices and the ditto happened! The moot question is how did the government allow companies to do this? When the vaccine price was capped, why was it changed?

The condition in many states is so miserable that they can hardly buy two doses for every person at the rate of Rs 400 per vaccine. The rate of Covaxin is even higher. Maharashtra is the most affected state and hence the Union government should give full support to it in the battle against corona pandemic. For your information, let me tell you that Maharashtra alone contributes 38 per cent of the tax received from the states to the Centre. Therefore, it is only natural to expect a fair deal in such a situation, all the states should get justice though. Everyone in this country has the right to get a corona vaccine. It is a different matter if someone has money and goes to the private centre to get a paid vaccine, otherwise the Central government should bear the cost to vaccinate them. Tax can also be levied if money is required.

When the Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about celebrating the vaccine festival, there was an atmosphere of gaiety everywhere but unfortunately in many places there was no vaccine at that time. It is clear that the officials did not give correct information to the Prime Minister and misled him. The officials should have ensured that the vaccine has reached across the country because the country believes in what the PM says. There is no question of politics here. People want to know why this festival has failed. I suggest that the help of retired paramedical staff, medical students and nurses should be sought to speed up vaccination. They will gladly come forward in this hour of crisis. The industry has come forward in this battle, but it needs to be brought forward further.

And yes, more people are dying due to management error than those who are dying from the disease. Short-sightedness is a big reason for this situation. Senior officials and experts occupying top positions in the government knew that there is no option other than the vaccine in the fight against corona, but they did not take prompt steps to increase the production of the vaccine. The US and the European Union advanced funding to their companies doing research on the vaccine, while India did not do anything like it. The Serum Institute of India invested Rs 2,000 crore on its own and received Rs 2,200 crore from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In August, the US had invested Rs 44,700 crore in the companies developing vaccines. It had booked 40 crore doses in August 2020 itself. The European Union booked 80 crore doses in November 2020 while India placed the first order of vaccine in January 2021 and that too only for 1.60 crore doses! Now the government has become active, but the truth is that the current production of vaccines in India is not enough to meet our requirement. Foreign companies are fully booked. Where will they give the vaccine from? And even if they decide to give, it will be at a very high cost!

Anticipating the possibility of the second wave of corona, many countries had ensured ample availability of oxygen, but we lagged behind because of the lack of vision of authorities here. In October 2020, the government placed an order for 162 oxygen production units. Today, only 33 of these units have been installed. People are dying for want of oxygen. For your information, let me tell you that there is no shortage of liquid oxygen in the country. There is a shortage of cylinders. It should have been arranged by the administrators and the hospital authorities. If oxygen is being transported from one place to another, the states falling on the way are blocking and diverting them for their own use. In situations like medical emergencies, there was also a delay in seeking assistance from all the three wings of the military and paramilitary forces. In my opinion, they should be used more and more so that the system can be streamlined.

I believe that zero tolerance policy should be adopted on black marketing of medicines. Some misconceptions are also being spread, which is very important to remove. For example, people feel that Remdesivir is a suitable medicine for corona, while the doctors are constantly saying that it is an antiviral drug, which should be used only under the supervision of qualified doctors. Today, there are more than 25 lakh active cases in the country. If 10 per cent of them want Remdesivir, it means that 15 lakh doses are needed for 2.5 lakh people, according to six doses per person. Now there are reports that hoarding is also taking place. I am of the opinion that Remdesivir should be disbursed on the basis of the assessment of the Disaster Management Group. It should be distributed as per need. There should be micro planning at the local level and a website for every district to dispense complete information from beds to oxygen, medicines and ventilators at a click should be developed. Such managerial skills can reduce the enormity of the situation. It is such a great irony that some people are dying due to lack of oxygen while others are dying due to leakage in oxygen tanks. Covid-19 hospitals are catching fire, charring patients to death. Why has our administration become so inefficient? It is certainly the responsibility of the officials to look after the administration. They should check whether the arrangement is proper or not. Why should we continue to blame the politicians? We can not expect that the Prime Minister, the chief ministers and the ministers would stand with a stick everywhere. As a matter of rule, the system should work smoothly.

I am concerned about the political rallies and meetings held in the states where elections were held. Those who came from there and those who took a dip in the Kumbh have reached the villages and towns and ‘distributed’ corona. One can easily imagine what will happen to the country when infection on such a massive scale takes place. I hold the Election Commission responsible for this because what was it doing when the rallies were being held? The Supreme Court should have also intervened suo moto. The rallies and meetings should have been banned. Kumbh should not have been held. The government should not have given permission to organise Kumbh. The coronavirus has thrown life in our metro cities out of gear but the condition of the villages is no less bad. However, it hardly finds a mention anywhere in the media! Many states are manipulating corona figures and this is definitely causing problems in the war against corona. Situation is really bad. Stay safe. Wear a mask, keep a safe distance and get a vaccine because that is the only way we can defeat coronavirus.

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Govt should provide free vaccine to everyone


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