Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, on Monday May 31, wrote to his counterparts in non-BJP states and asked them to put up a ‘united effort’ to ask the Union Government to procure COVID-19 vaccines needed by the states and distribute them free of cost. The letter has been sent to the Chief Ministers of eleven states — Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Delhi, Punjab and Maharashtra.
“It’s learnt that the Union Government has taken a stand that the state should resort to their own measure to procure COVID-19 vaccine. The supply of vaccine is scarce as compared to the demand for the same,” the letter read. In the letter, Pinarayi said that he has already written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to float a global tender for COVID-19 vaccines taking into account the cumulative need of the country.
“At this juncture, when the nation is passing through the second surge, it is quite unfortunate that there appears to be an attempt by the Centre to absolve itself of its bounden duty to provide adequate supply of vaccine to the States. The impact of the second surge has been unprecedented, putting all of us in a state of alarm. Besides, experts have warned that a third surge of Covid-19 incidence is highly likely. This necessitates our heightened preparation and vigil to meet that eventuality too,” CM Pinarayi said in his letter.
“It’s also important that vaccines should be provided free of cost considering it as a public good, the access to which shall be denied to none due to lack of financial wherewithal,” the letter to the eleven Chief Ministers said.
Wrote to 11 CMs in the spirit of Cooperative Federalism. Quite unfortunate that Centre absolves itself of its duty to procure vaccines, ensure free universal vaccination. United effort to jointly pursue our genuine demand is the need of the hour, so that Centre acts immediately. pic.twitter.com/ILvEFYSpRu— Pinarayi Vijayan (@vijayanpinarayi) May 31, 2021
CM Pinarayi added that the fiscal situation of the states will be in “dire straits” if the burden of vaccine is left to fall entirely or even substantially on the states.
“Fiscal strength of the States is an essential part of a healthy federal setup. If the States’ finances are hamstrung, federalism itself will be weakened and this will not augur well for a democratic polity like ours,” adding that this will impede the efforts for early building of herd immunity.
Pinarayi Vijayan pointed out that herd immunity will be effective only when a 'substantial section of the population' is vaccinated. So far, only 3.1% of the people in India have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"Foreign pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to enter into agreement with the States for procuring vaccines," Pinarayi wrote, adding that public sector pharmaceutical companies in India have the capability to produce the vaccine.
“The Government of India should ensure that property rights, patent laws and conventions do not prevent the manufacture of the vaccine,” the Kerala Chief Minister said in his letter.
The Kerala Chief Minister’s letter came days after former Finance Minister P Chidambaram suggested that the procurement of vaccines should be centralised.
Is there any surprise that Pfizer and Moderna have refused to deal with states (Punjab, Delhi) and will deal only with the central government?— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) May 24, 2021
The central government’s direction to the states to procure vaccines directly from the manufacturers abroad was a cynical move.
The Kerala Chief Minister had, on May 28, written to the PM urging him to take measures to ensure that the government gets a continuous supply of vaccines ‘so that the balance of vaccines can be supplied matching with the pace of Kerala's vaccination potential.’ Pinarayi had pointed out that the state had placed a purchase order for 1 crore doses of vaccine for the month of May, but the state has received only 8.84 lakh vaccine doses.