The decision to free vaccine manufacturers to sell half their production in the open market was one of the demands of the states. The states had also pressed the Centre for being allowed to independently source the vaccines and administer them as per their own guidelines. Now that the Centre has granted them their wish, they are complaining. The Centre did not fix the price and did not provide funds for them to buy the vaccines.
On its part, the Centre on Monday released Rs 3,000 crore in advance payment to the Serum Institute of India, Pune, and Rs 1,700 crore to Bharat Biotech, Hyderabad, for procuring vaccines for use in the Centrally-administered drive. All those above 45 will receive the shots free of cost in government hospitals and at the old fixed price of Rs 250 in private facilities. The expense is to be borne by the Centre. But others keen to get vaccinated in private facilities may now have to pay the market price, which is yet to be fixed. How, when and at what price would the manufacturers sell the vaccines to the states is not known. Clearly, the states will have to buy from the free-market quota allowed to the manufacturers.
Having sought freedom to run their own vaccination programmes as per their own designs it is puzzling that the same states are demanding that the Centre fix the price and, what is more, and, given their poor state of finances, provide the requisite funds. The heads-I-win-and-tails-you-lose stance of the states militates against common sense. As we had argued in this space earlier, given the huge shortage of vaccines, and the need to pursue a nation-wide drive in an orderly manner while following the triage principles, a Centrally-administered programme was the best option available.
Now that a huge spurt in demand is expected following the decision to vaccinate every adult of 18 years and above, the huge shortfall in vaccines will worsen the situation further. Such confusion would have been avoided had the states and the Centre relied on an independent panel of notable experts to devise and implement the national vaccination drive. Partisan politics of point-scoring was behind the demand of the states to seek autonomy in the matter of vaccinations.
The Centre too is not blameless insofar as it sought to get political mileage out of the vaccination drive without associating the states in the decision-making process. If anything required a closer coordination and cooperation between the Centre and the state it is the fight against the on-going health crisis which has brought the country to a standstill. Yet, myopic politicians on all sides are guilty of injecting partisanship in quelling the pandemic.
Maybe the situation is aggravated due to the on-going assembly polls which has seen all parties ignore basic pandemic norms to hold big rallies and thus risk further spread of the virus. On Tuesday, Rahul Gandhi was reported to have tested corona-positive. He had been active on the campaign trail in Kerala and a couple of other states. His sister Priyanka Vadra was earlier obliged to self-quarantine after it was found that her husband, Robert Vadra, had contracted the virus. Regrettably everyone has prioritised partisan politics over good sense on Covid-19.
Meanwhile, the controversy in Maharashtra concerning the intervention of former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in procuring the much in demand Remdesivir drug for treatment of corona infections has blown in the face of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi. We cannot imagine that the usual loudmouths of the Shiv Sena who invariably speak first and think later, if at all, would be so foolish as to blame the BJP leader for trying to help the state get on a priority basis a huge quantity of this drug, ascribing all sorts of motives to him.
It was, of course, quite in character that a sitting Sena MLA should threaten to thrust the coronavirus into the mouth of Fadnavis if only he could lay his hands on it. Hoodlums and hoods of various kinds feel this is the way to display loyalty to the supremo. Leaders of the Congress Party, including Priyanka Gandhi, and the NCP had raised Cain, seeking to put Fadnavis in the dock. But he has had the last laugh.
To his credit, MVA Minister for Food and Drugs Administration Dr Rajendra Shingane publicly stated that the BJP leaders had offered to help procure 60,000 vials of the drug and he had thanked them for it. Meanwhile, Fadnavis might feel vindicated after the minister’s open admission but it is a surprise that he seems unable to prevent his close relatives from periodically causing him embarrassment. How his 23-year-old nephew received the jab must be explained. Fadnavis should ensure that his wife and other relatives avoid creating public controversies which reflect poorly on him.