Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman hit out at the opposition over the higher wattage of Covid-19 vaccines and the overall slow pace of vaccination. According to reports, she said that the Centre may now look at the centralised procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
This statement comes at a time when most opposition-ruled States have asked the Centre to secure vaccines, retreating after having earlier sought more flexibility and freedom in vaccination. This gains significance as the global tenders issued by several State Governments has not managed to get any serious response.
The Centre had announced its liberalised and accelerated vaccination policy on 19 April that allowed the states to procure vaccines on their own. Recently, the Supreme Court had also asked the Centre to secure vaccines at a negotiated price,
It should be noted that the Union finance minister had provided Rs 35,000 crore of the Union Budget for the task of vaccination for the ongoing fiscal year and had announced that if required, more funds can also be provided.
Central government officials had accepted the demands by the state governments for flexibility in vaccine procurement, maintaining that health is a state subject.
Sitharaman remarked that the opposition rules state governments criticise the Centre for lack of supplies. But even when there was supply at the time of vaccination for priority groups like healthcare workers, the pace has been so low. By this statement, she referred to the state of Punjab where only 65 per cent of the frontline health workers have received the first dose of vaccine.
She criticized that India’s vaccination programme was started with the healthcare workers’ group because doctors are the frontline workers who have to treat patients and are exposed to infections the most. But even they have not been fully vaccinated while there was no supply issue.