As the Union government is set to open the vaccination drive to all individuals above 18 years of age and announced that states can buy additional doses from vaccine manufacturers directly (apart from what the Centre allocates), many wondered if the COVID-19 vaccine would continue to remain free of cost.
Amid such concerns, some states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Chhattisgarh have announced that the vaccine would be free of cost for all eligible individuals. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also stressed that the vaccine would continue to remain free of cost.
Under the current phases, where all senior citizens and those above 45 years of age are eligible, the vaccination is free at all government facilities, while it is capped at Rs 250 at private facilities. However, as yet, it is not sure if the vaccine will be free or at a capped price in private facilities in phase 3.
On Tuesday, Assam Health and Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma tweeted that the state government has already placed an order for one crore vaccine doses with Bharat Biotech, who are manufacturing Covaxin. He said that the donations that the state received last year for COVID-19 management will be utilised for this purpose.
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Bhagel has requested the Union government to supply an adequate number of COVID-19 vaccines for phase three. "Expenses to vaccinate all above 18 years in Chhattisgarh will be borne by the state government. We will take all possible steps to protect our citizens' lives.
Request central government to ensure availability of an adequate number of vaccines," Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel was quoted by news agency ANI.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government has decided to import vaccines from other nations. For this, it plans to divert all funds allocated to other departments.
On April 19, the Union government announced that the COVID-19 vaccine will be available for everyone above 18 years from May 1. It said that private hospitals and states will be able to buy vaccines directly from the vaccine manufacturers. India is currently administered two types of COVID-19 vaccines: Covishield and Covaxin.
Russiaâ€™s Sputnik V, which will be distributed in India by Dr Reddyâ€™s, is likely to be available by May or June.
Under the third phase of vaccine drive, the Union government has already asked the manufacturers to release up to 50% of their supply to them, and the remaining 50% to all states and open market. The manufactured vaccines are available in the open market at a pre-decided price. As per the price structure decided by the Serum Institute of India, Covishield vaccine will cost Rs 400 per dose for state governments and Rs 600 per dose for private hospitals.
The latest decision by the Union government comes at a time when several states reported a massive shortage in vaccines. In a letter to the PM, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan pointed out that state governments would have to procure vaccines at a time when they already have additional financial commitments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Addressing the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the production of vaccines has been ramped up, and that measures are being taken towards increasing the number of hospital beds and oxygen supply, both of which are currently facing a grave shortage.