State govts need assured quota of vaccines for free: Kerala CM writes to PM Modi

The Chief Minister said state governments have to procure the vaccines at a time they already have additional financial commitments because of the pandemic.
PM Modi and Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan
PM Modi and Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan
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Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding the procurement of vaccines on Tuesday, a day after the government announced its vaccination policy. The policy, apart from allowing states to open vaccination to anyone above the age of 18, said that vaccine manufacturers will provide 50% of the vaccine to the Union government which will then distribute to the states, and the remaining 50% can be sold to states and the open market at a price set by the company.

In his letter, the Chief Minister said that while the state welcomes the move to make vaccination available to anyone over 18, the state only received 5.5 lakh doses of the vaccine when it asked for 50 lakh. “We have received only 5.5 lakh doses, due to which we have been constrained to stop on-the-spot registration affecting our effort to deal with the rapid surge. I request you to allot the balance vaccine doses at the earliest,” he said.

He pointed out that the policy says that state governments will have to procure the vaccines at a price at a time they already have additional financial commitments because of the pandemic.

Pinarayi Vijayan said that they have to provide the vaccine to the public free of cost given the current scenario, and stated that the burden of purchasing the vaccine will place “considerable strain” on the state’s finances.

The price at which state governments and private players can buy the vaccines will not be the same as what the Union government is currently paying the manufacturers Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. State governments have to purchase vaccines at the same price that the open market has to. For example, Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla said that the price of the vaccine in the private market will be at Rs 1,000 per dose (it sells to the Union government at Rs 200 per dose).

“The State Governments have constitutional obligation in the health sector and do need an assured quota of Covid-19 vaccine which has to be provided free in the pandemic situation. It is imperative that vaccines are provided to the States as a public good, free of cost,” Pinarayi Vijayan wrote.

From the 50% that the Union government will buy from manufacturers, it said it will be allocating vaccines to states based on the number of COVID-19 cases and the government’s performance, but did not outline the criteria for determining which state gets how many doses.

The Kerala Chief Minister said that while the policy states the Union government will provide the vaccine free of cost from the 50%, “the States need a reassurance that they will not be left to compete with open market players.”

“Instead of having a Government of India channel, we need to have a Government channel which will include the State Governments through whom the vaccine will be distributed,” he said. The Government of India channel is the channel through which the Union government will procure the vaccines.

“I request the Hon'ble Prime Minister to reconsider the above cited aspect of the new policy on distribution of Covid-19 vaccine and provide the entire quantity of vaccine needed free of cost to the State Governments. The open market distributors may be permitted to have a specified quota of vaccine for which affordable price has to be fixed so that unscrupulous players do not exploit the public,” he said. 

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