Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make Covid vaccinations free of cost for all age groups in the state.
In a letter written Monday, Mr Soren cited the excessive financial burden – an estimated Rs 1,100 crore to vaccinate the 18-44 group and a further Rs 1,000 crore for children between 12 and 18. He said the costs would put a burden on financial resources “already stressed during Covid times”.
“The financial burden on the state for vaccination of the age cohort of 18-44 years is likely to be more than Rs 1,100 crore, considering 1.57 crore eligible beneficiaries,” he wrote.
“With vaccines being available for age cohort of 12-18 years, and below, the mentioned financial burden will further increase by around Rs 1,000 crore. It will be extremely difficult to spare from the resource pool of the state which is already stressed during Covid times,” he added.
The Chief Minister also pointed to the differential pricing of vaccines – something that has drawn scathing criticism from opposition parties, state governments and even the Supreme Court.
“… it is pertinent to note that the rates specified by the centre for procurement of vaccines by the state for the age cohort of 18 to 44 years are significantly higher than the rates at which vaccine is being procured by the centre for the beneficiaries in the age cohort of 45 years and above.”
Mr Soren also flagged the “abysmal supply of vaccine vis-a-vis the requirement of our state”, and underlined the need to ensure adequate supply of doses for “fast and complete vaccination” of Jharkhand and other states/UTs to ensure India is ready for a third wave of infections.
He reminded Prime Minister Modi that in vaccination programmes for other diseases – like polio or routine immunisation – the centre would supply states with all doses for free.
“This is probably the first instance in the history of independent India that states have been mandated to procure vaccines on their own. Such a mandate, under the ongoing challenging and unprecedented circumstances… stands against the principle of co-operative federalism,” Mr Soren said.
On Monday the centre faced several tough questions from the Supreme Court about its vaccination policy. The court flagged “various flaws”, including discrepancy in supply and costs for different groups.
“If purpose is to procure vaccines, why should the centre procure only for over 45? (and) Why has the government left it to manufacturers to fix price of vaccines?” the court asked.
The centre has said it plans to vaccinate all of India by the end of 2021. Last month it pointed to a blueprint that said over 200 crore doses will be available between August and December.
Over 21 crore doses have been administered so far, but experts say this amounts to only around 11 per cent of the country’s population, only three per cent of which has been fully vaccinated.
Experts have warned of a third wave and stressed that it is imperative to vaccinate as much of the population, as quickly as possible, to minimise the impact of that and any future waves.
India has recorded over 2.8 crore COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began, with over 20 lakh active cases and more than three lakh deaths related to the virus. Jharkhand has recorded around 3.3 lakh cases, of which around 9,000 are active and nearly 5,000 are deaths.