Leaving aside the political rhetoric following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that the Union government will centralise procurement of Covid-19 vaccines, the reversal of the current policy has rightly been welcomed across the political divide and by all sections. Come June 21 when the new vaccine policy will take effect, the chaos that is currently being witnessed wherein state governments are queuing up before manufacturers and competing with each other and private hospitals for scant vaccines will end.
This unseemly situation was brought about by the liberalised vaccination policy unveiled on May 1, which did two things: It opened up vaccine eligibility to include people belonging to the 18-44 age group and put the onus of procuring vaccines for this set of the population on state governments. The centralisation of procurement will stop this rat race and also end the dual pricing of vaccines.
But the PM’s announcement to buy vaccines and provide them to states does not in any way alleviate their critical shortage. The only positive outcome of the decision is that procurement and availability will be streamlined. The challenge of vaccine shortage remains and it is unlikely to end very soon. As of today, only about 12% of the population has received one dose of the vaccine and a mere 4% has got two doses. The need, therefore, is for the Union and state governments to work together in the spirit of cooperative federalism and join hands against the common enemy. It’s true that the Centre was somewhat forced into expanding the vaccination programme to include the 18-44 age group as it was the demand of many CMs.
This only added to the shortage of vaccines. But the expansion of the programme may not necessarily be bad. This set of people form the backbone of the workforce, which means they are the most productive section of the population. Last week the Delhi HC even observed that it may be better to vaccinate this section first. So the way forward is to combine wisdom. It can be left to the states to prioritise whichever age group they deem fit while the Centre can leverage its monopolistic position to bargain for a better vaccine deal.