NEW DELHI: Terming the new anti-COVID vaccine policy "discriminatory and insensitive", the Congress on Sunday accused the government of allowing vaccine makers to profiteer to the tune of Rs 1.11 lakh crore.
Congress general secretary and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged that the government has abdicated its responsibility of providing free vaccines to the poor and the youth of the country.
"How can such brazen vaccine profiteering be permitted? Why is the Modi government complicit in this profiteering in the times of pandemic? Prime Minister Narendra Modi must answer," he told reporters at a virtual press conference.
He said vaccine development and mass immunisation are neither events nor PR exercises, but are important milestones in the service of people and inoculation being an important public service can never be a business opportunity for profiteering at the cost of people.
The Congress leader claimed that the Modi government has introduced "the most discriminatory and insensitive vaccination policy" in the entire world.
"The Modi government is guilty of permitting brazen profiteering of vaccination. The Modi government is also guilty of abdicating its responsibility and abandoning the young of India between the age group of 18 and 45 years," he alleged.
However, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan defended the new policy saying the Centre has liberalised the coronavirus vaccination strategy to allow states, private hospitals and industrial establishments following requests from nearly all states and to unleash the "combined effort of Team India" to inoculate every adult in the earliest possible time.
In a statement, the minister hit out at those political leaders indulging in "needless politics" on the matter and spreading misinformation and said he sees no reason why the states must complain now as they were demanding removal of restrictions on vaccine supplies to them.
Surjewala hit back saying, "Dear Dr.Harsh Vardhan ji, One needs a 4 page statement to bury the truth in jargon of words. Truth is always simple. Please answer why has Modi government abdicated its responsibility of vaccinating 18-45 years old in the country? Why pass the onus to states/private sector."
"Please answer why is 'One Nation, One Vaccine Price' been replaced by 'One Nation, 5 Vaccine Prices' by the Modi government? Why permit brazen profiteering by companies by fixing different price slabs for states/private sector for the same vaccine," he also asked.
Covishield manufactured by the Serum Institute of India will be given at Rs 400 per dose to states and Rs 600 per dose to private hospitals, while Bharat Biotech's Covaxin will cost Rs 600 per dose for the states and Rs 1,200 per dose for private hospitals.
Going by the prices offered by the vaccine makers, Surjewala claimed that the SII and Bharat Biotech would make Rs 35,350 crore and Rs 75,750 crore profit respectively.
He came to the conclusion after assuming that 50 per cent of 101 crore people between 18 and 45 years are served by SII and Bharat Biotech, and estimating that half of them would buy their own vaccines and another half would be served by states.
"The population below 45 years of age is 101 crore. To vaccinate them, we need 202 crore doses and the cost of these will have to be borne by the states or the individuals themselves, he said.
"Based on this and assuming that states will provide 50 per cent vaccination and individuals will bear 50 per cent of vaccination cost, the profit of the two vaccine manufacturers -- Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech -- will be Rs 1,11,100 crore," he said.
Surjewala said the complete abandonment of citizens by the government is painful beyond words.
"It's not the dead alone, who died for lack of #Oxygen but also the living, who are getting asphyxiated every second seeing the loved ones go," he tweeted.