India Announces Free Vaccination For Aged 18+

India has fast-tracked vaccine procurement and will provide free shots to citizens above 18 years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an address to the nation on Monday, June 7th.The South Asian nation faces the challenge of vaccinating its large adult population as it emerges from a devastating second virus wave, with a critical shortage of inoculations leading some centers to close down as the country struggled to ramp up domestic production and procure doses internationally.

Modi’s speech came against the backdrop of a near breakdown in health infrastructure over the last two months, with major Indian cities running out of oxygen and hospitals flooded with patients, while crematoriums struggled to keep pace with the number of those who died of covid-19. His administration has come under intense criticism over its handling of the second wave and the vaccination rollout and its popularity ratings have fallen from 75% in 2019 to 51% this year, according the Local Circle polling company.All citizens aged above 18 would be vaccinated at free of cost by the Centre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on June 7. All state-level vaccine procurement would also be taken over by the central government, Modi said.

The 25 percent vaccination procurement which was being conducted by the states would now be conducted by the central government, he said, adding that vaccines would be directly purchased by the Centre and given to the states for free.”From June 21, Tuesday, all citizens of India above 18 years of age will be given free vaccination,” Modi added.The Centre, as part of the new vaccination strategy, would procure 75 percent of the vaccines, whereas, the private sector would be allowed to purchase 25 percent of the vaccines, the prime minister said.

How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

Rs 150 can be the service charge imposed by private sector for the overhead charges, he said. The vaccine policy was, on May 1, liberalised to allow the state government to directly procure the vaccines. “Within two weeks of May, several state governments changed their stance and said the earlier Centre-led vaccination programme would be preferred,” Modi said.Considering the demand raised by the states, the Centre has now decided to reverse the changes and lead the inoculation programme with 75 percent procurement of the vaccine doses, he added.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has welcomed the changes announced in the vaccination policy. “We thank PM Modi for this important announcement of universal vaccination for all to be carried out by the Government of India. IMA is constantly and proactively supporting the vaccination drive initiated by the prime minister,” news agency ANI quoted IMA president Dr JA Jayalal as saying.

Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) president TV Narendran also lauded Modi’s decision, claiming that it would facilitate quick rollout of vaccines.”Centralisation of procurement will ensure uniformity of procurement prices and create bandwidth among states to manage inoculation of their adult populations. This would also ensure an equitable allocation of vaccines in states and was a key ask of CII too. Making the vaccines available for all the eligible population free of cost will go a long way in protecting the citizens and resuming normal economic activities at the earliest,” he said.

Modi, during his address to the nation, also announced that the government will “continue the PM GaribKalyan Anya Yojana providing free grains to 80 crore people with free food grains till Diwali”. The free ration aid is aimed at mitigating the economic impact of COVID-19.Modi, while noting that “this is the deadliest pandemic in the last 100 years”, said India has been proactive to develop and procure vaccines “which are the only shield against the pandemic”.There are seven companies in India which are currently manufacturing vaccines, the prime minister said, adding that the inoculation of over 23 crore doses so far is largely through the two made-in-India vaccines – Covishield and Covaxin.

Efforts are also underway “to buy vaccines from other countries”, Modi pointed out. His remarks comes amid the state government’s demand that the Centre must procure the vaccines from abroad as global manufacturers are not dealing directly with the states.Modi also pointed out that experts have raised concerns about the vulnerability of minors to COVID-19, and the government, after taking cognisance of the concerns, have approved trials for vaccines for children aged below 18.

The prime minister added that a research is underway for the development of nasal vaccine against coronavirus. “If successful it could help support country’s COVID-19 vaccination drive,” he said.Modi claimed that his government, over the past seven years, has succeeded in increasing India’s overall vaccination coverage. “From around 60 percent coverage in 2014, we have managed to take it past 90 percent during our term,” he said.

Modi’s address to the country over the vaccination policy comes days after the Supreme Court raised questions at the Centre. The court expressed concern over the “digital divide” between rural and urban Indian in accessing the vaccines, and asked the government to adopt a policy in accordance to the “dynamic pandemic situation”.The court also called the non-extension of free vaccination to the 18-44 age group as “prima facie arbitrary and irrational” and asked why budgetary allocation of Rs 35,000 crore for vaccine procurement could not be used to inoculate this group free of cost.

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