Two former Karnataka Chief Ministers and civil society members are urging Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa to make vaccination free for the residents of the state. COVID-19 vaccination will be opened up for all those above 18 years of age across the country from May 1, and the Chief Minister will chair a meeting on the issue on Monday.
"As the government has decided to vaccinate everyone above 18 years, I appeal (to the State government) to inoculate 6.5 crore people of the state, who are in financial distress, free of cost," former CM Kumaraswamy tweeted on Saturday night. He pointed out that Jharkhand, Goa, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Bihar and Sikkim have already announced free vaccination and the same should be done in Karnataka.
He said that in the current scenario, the vaccination drive will be hindered if they are charged.
"Already Rs 400 crore has been earmarked to purchase one crore doses of vaccine. It will not be a burden to reserve Rs 2,000 crore for vaccines for a government, which has presented a budget of Rs 2.5 lakh crore," Kumaraswamy said.
"It will be a commendable decision to vaccinate everyone free of cost the way Pulse Polio vaccine was given," Kumaraswamy added.
Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah too asked the government to make vaccination free for all on Sunday. On Twitter, he said, ‚ÄúThe BJP which had to encourage vaccination, by increasing its price is making it so that people can't take it. Mr Narendra Modi, instead of lip service such as ‚ÄėTika Utsav', first provide free vaccination to all.‚ÄĚ
So far, vaccination has been free for eligible beneficiaries according to age groups in government institutions and people had to pay Rs 250 for the jabs in private setups. However, the union government, which until now was procuring for state governments including private hospitals, have said that state governments have to negotiate with the manufacturers. Now, 50% of the vaccines will be procured by the union government at the earlier agreed price. Meanwhile, the vaccine manufacturing companies ‚ÄĒ Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India ‚ÄĒ have also set higher prices for state governments.
A CMO source said that financial constraints seem to be the major worry for the Chief Minister to make the decision as the government is already struggling with revenues, and GST shortfalls from the union government.
Akhila Vasan of the Karnataka Janaaroyga Chaluvali, a pro-public health organisation, said, ‚ÄúThe government shall look at the vaccine universalisation programme which has been here for a long time. This is shocking more so as the government is not making any effort to negotiate pricing with the pharma companies and allowing them to set up the price. This is completely unheard of.‚ÄĚ
He added, ‚ÄúThis is the most barbarous act, especially during a pandemic when everybody is economically struggling. This is not only inhumane but this is practically putting a price on the right to life.‚ÄĚ
Meanwhile, some civil society members have suggested that the state government, if in dire need, can ask for voluntary donations from beneficiaries to the Chief Minister‚Äôs Disaster Relief Fund to recover the expenses.
Vinay Sreenivasa, an advocate-activist in Bengaluru, said, ‚ÄúGiving vaccines free ensures the most vulnerable, poorest get protected. This will also ensure increased vaccine adoption.‚ÄĚ He said, ‚ÄúGive vaccines for free and set-up a counter for the Chief Minister's Relief fund at all counters. Let those who want to donate do so. This can be used for COVID-19 relief.‚ÄĚ
In neighbouring Kerala, Kerala Chief Minister‚Äôs Distress Relief Fund received Rs 1.5 crore in a matter of days after CM Pinarayi Vijayan reiterated that the COVID-19 vaccine would be free for all in the state.
The Kerala CM had taken strong exception to the ‚Äúliberalised‚ÄĚ approach of the union government and had written to PM Modi stating that states require an assured quota of vaccines and that purchasing the vaccines would put a strain on the state‚Äôs finances.
Vinay Sreenivasa also urged the public to ask their respective MLAs to ask for free vaccination as a public health strategy and a preventive investment to restart economic activities.