COVID-19: Maharashtra govt yet to take call on free vaccination
Bhushan Koyande

The Maha Vikas Aghadi government has yet to take a decision on free vaccination. Initial estimates show that the government, which is struggling to revive its economy that has taken body blows from the coronavirus-induced lockdown and the economic downturn, may have to shell out Rs 4,800 crore if it procures two doses of Covishield vaccine each for six crores, or 50 per cent of its populace. This estimate is based on the Centre’s 50:50 formula whereby 50 per cent doses will be supplied by the Centre to the state and the remainder will be procured by the latter.

This estimate may differ if the Centre clarifies that 50 per cent of the 18-45 years age group will have to be vaccinated by the state government. For double vaccine doses, the government will have to cough up money from its resources and the exact amount will be known only after the number of people in the 18-45 category is determined.

Furthermore, the state cabinet has also decided to import vaccines but that will be finalised only after seeking the availability of doses and prices from the suppliers of Moderna, J&J, Pfizer and Sputnik. The government will later work out its outgo towards import.

A senior minister told The Free Press Journal, “The cabinet, chaired by the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, expects clarity from the Centre on the implementation of universal vaccination announced on Monday. There was unanimity that the Centre should bear the cost but if it does not, then the state government will mobilise the necessary funds. Funding for vaccination will be provided by the state government. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who holds the finance and planning department, has also assured that funds won’t be an issue.” However, he reiterated that the state government’s actual outgo towards vaccination could only be known after more clarity from the Centre.

Public Health Minister Rajesh Tope said, “The state government will implement the vaccination on a war footing by diverting funds from all departments. In the wake of rising cases, the state government has urged the Centre to increase the supply of vaccine doses which can be provided in remote areas.”

Another minister referred to the Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla’s statement that his priority was to provide as many as vaccines to Maharashtra after fulfilling his contractual obligations with the Centre. “Poonawalla’s statement is crucial as the state can bid aggressively for more Covishield vaccine doses which SII will supply at Rs 400 per dose to the government and at Rs 600 per dose to the private hospitals,” he said.

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