New Delhi: Addressing concerns raised by some quarters on the recently announced 'Liberalized and Accelerated Phase III Strategy of Covid-19 Vaccination', Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Sunday took a swipe at "certain political leaders" from the Opposition and said they are indulging in "needless politics" and spreading "misinformation".
Taking to his blog, the Union Minister said the need of the hour is a greater degree of shared idealism.
"In any battle, time is of the greatest essence. While the dreaded disease is spreading like a tsunami, it was critical to ease the controls and allow a free hand to the state governments as well as the private sector. Hence, under the able guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we decided to ease the vaccination policy norms," Dr Harsh Vardhan wrote.
He said that it is unfortunate that an "attempt is being made to spread a great deal of misinformation" about the "most important phase of vaccination".
"There are a few pertinent points that I wanted to place in the public domain, to scotch the attempts by some vested interests who are trying to derail the biggest vaccination drive of the world," he added.
Dr Harsh Vardhan said that so far, over 14 crore vaccine doses have been administered by the states, and another few crore vaccines are in stock, and so far, all the doses have been given free by the Centre to state governments.
"As per the new policy, even after the launch of the third phase of vaccination starting 1st of May 2021, the Government of India's pricing shall continue for the free distribution bracket. Just as before, the Centre will continue giving vaccine doses from its 50 per cent quota to the states and UTs for free. These vaccines shall continue to be administered by states and Union Territories," he noted.
Addressing the questions are being raised on the 'balance 50 per cent quota' and what it means, the Minister 'clarified' that this balance 50 per cent quota grants flexibility for states.
"Many states had requested that the vaccination process be opened up for them. Now, this 'balance 50 per cent quota' shall give them the freedom to vaccinate groups that they deem as priority. It is a fact that Health is a state subject, where the Centre essentially coordinates and facilitates the states. After we received requests from nearly all states to liberalise the vaccine distribution policy and pass on the control to the states, we decided to go ahead," he said.
Dr Harsh Vardhan further noted that the "balance 50 per cent quota" is also open for the corporate and private sector to pool in their resources so that the combined effort of 'Team India' can be deployed to vaccinate every adult at the earliest possible time.
He said the vaccination process through the Centre's route will continue as before and the entire expense of it will continue to be borne by the Centre. He added that as the eligibility criteria to get vaccinated through the Centre's route evolves further, the government of India will continue to provide full support to the states to vaccinate all eligible people free of cost.
"Undoubtedly, the private and corporate sector route will empower a large number of people to get themselves quickly vaccinated outside the government route. In essence, those who can afford to get them at the private and corporate sector rates shall go ahead," he said Therefore, the Minister said that the states, as per their own priority and commitments, have to vaccinate only those remaining people who have not been administered vaccines either through the Centre's free route or through the private route.
He said that for common people at large, "there is and will always be" an option to get vaccinated for free, to ensure that the price of vaccines does not become a burden for them.
He reiterated that the Central government does not give vaccines directly to anyone, and said the 50 per cent quota, which is at the Centre's pricing, is for free distribution of vaccines, which will be done through the states only.
"Hence the allegation that Centre is getting it cheap and States are not is patently false. The actual situation is that states are getting one guaranteed channel of free vaccine supply, while it can simultaneously procure vaccines from another channel as per its aspirations and commitment to its people," he said.
"I see no reason why the states must complain now. They were demanding removal of restrictions on vaccine supplies to them. Under the new policy, they have the liberty to directly procure from the manufacturers and even negotiate prices based on volumes. This will also cut the delays. I empathise with the states because they are leading this battle from the front and need fast replenishment of vaccine stocks. They need to decide when, how, how much and to whom. This is exactly what the Centre has done by easing the process," the Minister added.
Noting that the response to the "balance 50 per cent quota" initiative has been "heartening" in multiple states like Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Kerala, Sikkim, West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, among others, that have announced to inoculate those between the ages of 18 to 45 against coronavirus free of cost, the Minister said state have full freedom to do this.
"Sadly, I am also compelled to point out that there are certain political leaders who have chosen to indulge in needless politics on the issue of vaccination and are spreading misinformation at every step, whether it is about the efficacy or about pricing," he said, and "appealed" to these political parties to put the success of vaccination program above everything else so that people's lives can be saved.
Dr Harsh Vardhan said he always "appreciates constructive criticism", but added, "There is no need for a 'crisis of confidence' regarding alleged shortage of diagnostics and vaccines, because there are none."