Central vaccine procurement should be supplemented by flexible decentralised distribution

These columns had argued (‘The Central Answer’, June 4) the Centre must revert to being the bulk procurer of India-made vaccines. That’s the surest way to ramp up supplies and keep prices down. The PM’s address to the nation on Monday effected this much-needed change. New Delhi will acquire 75% of all vaccines, leaving 25% for the private sector. The central procurement will be distributed free to states – this takes care of the issues of who will pay for vaccines. There will be no price discrimination between age groups – this addresses judicial critiques. And the new policy will come into effect from June 21, after a two-week prep time to sort out details – this is in happy contrast to the policy change in late April, which was more a product of political oneupmanship between the Centre and states, and produced disastrous results.

If this welcome change of tack is followed through with some smart detailing, and if promises of higher vaccine supplies come through, India may finally be on the way to a vaccination policy it deserves and needs. First, the Centre should frame a transparent formula for allocating vaccines to states, and that formula should be public. Second, as we argued before, advance payments should be made well in advance. That means, payments for August onwards should be made now. Third, the Centre should allow states to decide distribution strategy. If states prefer door-to-door vaccinations or drive-by vaccinations or they want to further decentralise distribution through other means, they should be free to mix and match strategies that suit them best. Also, the CoWin registration system now must be made non-mandatory to allow quick-paced mass vaccination. Central procurement and flexible decentralised distribution – that’s the best option.

GoI should be commended for keeping the 25% share of the private sector in vaccine procurement. With ramped up supplies, India Inc can buy more vaccines faster and much of India’s white collar working population, especially the younger lot, can get vaccinated without putting pressure on the government system, which should aim squarely at low-income urban and rural groups. Capping private hospital administration charges is also sensible – it removes a needless source of controversy.

The PM spoke about Bharat Biotech’s intranasal vaccine. This is a potential game changer – works on a single dose and is easy to administer. If this and a vaccine for those below 18 can be cleared for use relatively quickly, India will have a vaccine policy well-armed to fight a pandemic that’s not going away anytime soon.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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