Will poor and underprivileged get COVID-19 vaccine for free, asks Congress
New Delhi: A day after India rolled out the “world’s largest inoculation drive” against COVID-19, the Congress on Sunday asked whether the government plans to provide free vaccines to all Indians, especially the underprivileged and the poor, and when.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that though the government claims it will cover three crore people in the first round of the vaccination drive, it is yet to clarify if the remaining population of India will get a vaccine, and whether they will get it for free.
“Is the government not aware that 81.35 crore people are eligible for subsidised ration under the Food Security Act? Will the SC, ST, BC, OBC, BPL, APL, the poor and the underprivileged get the vaccine for free or not? If yes, what is the roll-out plan and by when will the government ensure free vaccination?” he asked.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP government need to answer…Who will get free corona vaccine? How many people will get the free corona vaccine? Where will you get free corona vaccine?” he said.
Surjewala also raised questions over the pricing of the two vaccines — Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech and Covishield from the Oxford/AstraZeneca stable manufactured by the SII — approved for emergency use in India and asked why the government has not put them in the National List of Essential Medicines.
The Congress general secretary asked why the government should pay Rs 95 more to Bharat Biotech for a vaccine that has been developed with the expertise and experience of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) scientists.
“Should the price of such a vaccine not be cheaper than the AstraZeneca-Serum Institute? Why is the price of corona vaccine Rs 1,000 per dose in the open market?” he asked.
He said the government should demand transparency from companies on the cost of production and profits being made from the vaccine.
“Vaccine development and mass immunizations were neither events nor publicity stunts, but important milestones in the service of the people.
“While India stands united in providing immunisation against the coronavirus to our frontline corona warriors — doctors, health workers, police personnel and others — let’s remember that vaccinations are an important public service and not a political or business opportunity,” he told reporters at a press conference.
The first COVID-19 vaccine shots in India were given on Saturday to nearly two lakh frontline healthcare and sanitation workers as Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out the “world’s largest inoculation drive” against the pandemic that has caused 1,52,093 deaths and upended millions of lives in the country.
Modi asserted that the two vaccines being deployed will ensure a “decisive victory” for India against the coronavirus.
According to the government, the shots will be offered first to an estimated one crore healthcare workers, and around two crore frontline workers, and then to persons above 50 years of age, followed by persons younger than 50 years of age with associated comorbidities.
Cost of vaccination of healthcare and frontline workers will be borne by the central government.