From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Issues with vaccination strategy
The article highlights the issues with the new vaccine strategy adopted by the government.
Revamped vaccine strategy
- With the second Covid-19 wave reaching catastrophic proportions, the Government of India has acted by unveiling a completely revamped vaccine strategy.
- Two key elements are the hallmark of this new strategy, which will be implemented from May 1.
- First, the vaccination drive has now been extended to the entire adult population, namely, to those above 18 years.
- Second, vaccine manufacturers have been given the freedom to sell 50% of their vaccine production to State governments and private hospitals.
- A third element of the vaccine strategy, which was not announced formally, is a grant of ₹45 billion to the two vaccine manufacturers, the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, to boost their capacities.
Issues with the new vaccine strategy
1) Control over the market for vaccine
- The central government has given up its control over the market for vaccines, a key feature of the vaccine roll-out plans thus far.
- This issue assumes further significance since the Government of India is well aware about the significance of vaccinating every citizen in the country; “none of us will be safe until everyone is safe”.
- It is, therefore, vitally important that public health authorities in the country take an objective view of the realities of the country before adopting strategies for vaccine availability.
2) Vaccine export
- The phased roll-out of the government’s ambitious vaccination drive, beginning with health-care and frontline workers in January was in sync with the availability of vaccines in the country.
- But, given that India too saw a degree of “vaccine-scepticism”, the Government of India found itself in a situation where it could promise exports of vaccines to 95 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia.
- As of April 26, these countries have received more than 66.4 million doses of vaccines from India.
- Until now, nearly 142 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country, the third highest in the world.
- However, in terms of population share, less than 2% has received both vaccine doses, while less than 9% has received one dose.
- But there is one worrying facet, which is that a demand-supply mismatch has begun to appear as the coverage of the vaccine-eligible population expanded.
- The largest supplier, SII, gave two explanations for its inability to meet its commitments.
- The first was that the United States Government had restricted exports of vaccine culture and other essential materials.
- Second, the company complained that it lacked the financial capacity to expand its production, requesting a grant of ₹30 billion from the government.
3) Onus on the States
- Central government have allowed vaccine producers to sell 50% of their production directly to State governments and private hospitals.
- The central government would continue to support vaccination for people above 45 years, and health-care workers and frontline workers.
- The new strategy shifts the onus onto the State governments, which have to take decisions regarding free vaccination for people above 18 years.
- The government has not fixed the vaccine prices and has allowed the producers to pre-declare the prices they would charge from the State governments and private hospitals, a sharp departure from the extant strategy.
- New policy fragments the market into three layers namely, central government procurement, State government procurement and the private hospitals.
- This layering of the market would allow the producers to charge high prices from the State governments and private hospitals.
- The new strategy would shift the burden of vaccination of the young population, namely, those between 18-44 years, entirely on the State governments.
- This implies that the vaccination of a significant section of the population depends on the financial health of each State government, resulting in inequitable access to vaccines across States.
4) Public money given for expanding production capacity
- In view of the advance of ₹45 billion made by the Government of India to the two vaccine producers in India for expanding their production capacities decision to deregulate the vaccine market raises serious questions.
- This question is more pertinent in India, where access to affordable vaccines is critical for ensuring “vaccination for all”.
- Rather than allowing duopoly in the vaccine market, the government should have ensured a competitive market for vaccines.
- One positive step that the government has taken in this direction is to increase production of Bharat Biotech’s vaccine through the involvement of three public sector undertakings, including Haffkine Institute.
- There is a need for more open licensing of this vaccine to scale up production.
There can be no alternative to vaccination for all if we want to overcome the Covid and to ensure that government needs to rethink its new strategy.