Paying for the Vaccine

ADDRESSING the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday asked states to avoid lockdown as India fights  a new wave of Covid-19 infections. He said the states should consider the lockdown as “the last option”, urging them to focus on micro-containment zones. Last year, the PM had imposed lockdown at a short notice of four hours. It had lasted for over two months. But in the process the lockdown had crippled the economy, denting the Gross Domestic Product by one-fourth. On the ground, it meant destruction of businesses and loss of lakhs of jobs. A year on, the economy is yet to return to normal growth path, albeit some sectors like autos and domestic tourism  had started witnessing major growth. Green shoots were also visible in other sectors. So, the PM’s reluctance to re-impose lockdown is understandable. The economy cannot afford one more year of low growth. It could wreak havoc with the lives of people.
That said, the situation on Covid-19 front remains grim. India is now the world’s second-worst hit country, lagging only the U.S. The daily cases are now over three lakh. This has pushed country’s health system  to breaking point.  Hospitals around the country are reporting severe shortages of beds and medical oxygen. Governments in Maharashtra and New Delhi have been forced to impose restrictions on movement. Delhi is currently under a week-long curfew. An apocalyptic like situation has brought the nation’s benchmark stock indices  to their lowest since end-January. Rupee too has depreciated.
Union Government has been, as a result,  forced to lift the age bar on vaccination. Beginning May 1, vaccination will be open to all age groups. There’s a problem though: now the people will have to pay for vaccines. According to government’s latest decision, around 50 percent of the doses produced by vaccine makers will be provided in the open market to be bought by the state governments and private hospitals.  They can administer these doses to  those between the ages of 18 and 45 years on payment. However, those above the age of 45 are eligible for free vaccinations at government centres and at a reduced rate of Rs 250 per dose at private facilities.
Introduction of vaccination against payment is not a right step at this time. There’s already a deep vaccine hesitancy that is preventing people from taking shots, now people will also shy away from vaccination for reasons of having to pay for it. This would detrimentally affect the efforts to expedite the vaccination in the country. It is important that the union government rethinks the decision.

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