Free vaccines to all a game changer in India's COVID fight

The move to extend the supply of free ration to 80 crore people is also a major step with the huge food subsidy bill of around Rs 25,000 crore being borne by the Centre.
A medic inoculates the dose of COVID-19 vaccine to an auto-rickshaw driver in Ranchi. (File photo| ANI)
A medic inoculates the dose of COVID-19 vaccine to an auto-rickshaw driver in Ranchi. (File photo| ANI)

The Central government's decision to offer free vaccination to all those above 18 years of age in India is going to be a game changer. This is a massive step in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which was described as 'the century's worst calamity' by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The decision by the Centre to buy 75 per cent of vaccine doses produced in the country and supply the same free of cost to states is a decisive move that is likely to streamline and expedite vaccination. And not surprisingly, many states and CMs have heartily welcomed the announcement made by the PM through his address to the nation on Monday.

The free vaccination will begin from June 21 across the country coinciding with International Yoga Day celebrations. In the process, states will not have to bear even a rupee for the procurement of vaccine doses from the makers. This will save the already overburdened finances of many states.

Competing with many developed countries, India has already administered a massive 23 crore doses since it began the vaccination process on January 16. We are the third country in the world to administer so many doses among its population, next only to China and the US. Given the pace of the vaccination, it is expected that we will soon overtake the US that has administered a total of 33 crore doses till now.

A total of 24.06 crore vaccine doses have been provided to the states. And the number of doses with the states is 1.49 crore as on June 7. It is a testimony to the pace of the vaccination in the country that we have been administering not less than 20 lakh doses a day in the recent past. India is steadily increasing the count of daily vaccination doses. It administered a massive 36.5 lakh doses on June 4.

With the expected streamlining of vaccine distribution among states due to the centralised procurement, and with financial and logistics support from the Centre, the number of daily vaccine doses administered will be around 50 lakh in the near future.

The prime minister pointed out in his address that at least seven different makers are producing vaccines in our country and three more candidates are in the final phase of trials. If all these are available in the next couple of months, the supplies will be improved manifold.

The prime minister constituted the Vaccine Task Force in April last year and expedited the process, due to which we were able to come out with two Made-in-India vaccines in a short period of time. Earlier, it took decades for us to get the vaccines developed in other countries.

This all did not start overnight. The Central government had begun a massive increase in vaccine production and inoculation as early as in 2014 for the universal immunisation programme. This successfully took vaccination coverage from 60 per cent in 2014 to 90 per cent in the next five to six years under the Mission Indradhanush programme. Now the Central government has launched the Intensified Mission Indradhanush (IMI) 3.0 so as to ensure that no child or pregnant woman will be left unprotected against vaccine-preventable diseases in India.

Living true to its reputation as the world's biggest vaccine maker, India is ramping up its COVID-19 jab production too. Leaving no stone unturned, the Central government is extending financial support to some other vaccine makers to expedite trials and come out with safe and effective vaccines. Giving top priority to vaccinating all its eligible population, the Centre has allocated a massive Rs 35,000 crore in its Budget for the programme. Talks with major global vaccine producers are also in the final stages and huge stocks will arrive in our country soon.

Russia-based vaccine makers have already supplied 30 lakh doses of Sputnik V to India. The Hyderabad-based Dr. Reddy's Laboratories has received the supplies and the rollout has already begun. Dr. Reddy's has a pact with the Russian vaccine maker to sell the first 250 million vials of Sputnik V to our nation.

Similarly, the Centre is extending all possible help and financial support for vaccine makers to come out with jabs for children. This assumes importance so as to protect the children from the feared third wave. The support to research on a nasal vaccine is a crucial step in inoculating children against COVID.

It is important to remember that the prioritised vaccination to doctors and other healthcare workers proved vital in saving our medical fraternity and helped their fight against the deadly second wave. The prioritisation of vaccine doses to people above 45 years and those with comorbidities has also helped save those vulnerable sections.

As vaccine procurement and supplies are to get streamlined from June 21, it is likely that our country will move ahead towards its goal to vaccinate at least 80% of the eligible population by the end of this year.

Saving millions from hunger

Another important decision by the prime minister - to extend the supply of free ration to 80 crore people in the country through Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana up to Deepavali (Nov 2021) - is also a major step. No poor family, especially the 79.88 crore existing beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act, will suffer due to non-availability of food grains. A massive 80 lakh tonnes of food grains will be distributed under the scheme. It is a major welfare initiative with a huge food subsidy bill of around Rs 25,000 crore being borne by the Centre.

Till we achieve the vaccination target, it is important for people to follow COVID-appropriate behaviour to contain virus spread. It is also important to overcome vaccine hesitancy. India has successfully shown the world its strong collective resolve to fight the pandemic earlier. Now its collective resolve and effort continue to help in the battle.

(The writer is Governor of Telangana and Lt Governor of Puducherry)

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express