Experts Urge: Make COVID Vaccine Free for Everyone in India to Curb Death Toll

India Vaccine Cost

Commentary published in BMJ Global Health advises making the COVID jab free for everyone in India to boost uptake and curb death toll.

And expedite approval of foreign vaccines.

The COVID-19 jab should be made free for everyone in India to boost uptake and curb the death toll from the infection, urge experts in a personal view (commentary) published in the online journal BMJ Global Health.

And approval of foreign vaccines already deployed elsewhere around the globe should be speeded up as a matter of urgency, argue the authors from the ICMR-National Institute of Malaria Research and the Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi.

India is now reporting the largest daily number of COVID-19 infections in the world amid critical shortages of hospital beds, ICU beds, medicines, ventilators, oxygen, and healthcare staff.

Despite international aid pouring into the country and emergency use authorization for several vaccines, poor planning of home-grown vaccine production and deployment means that India doesn’t have enough vaccines to go round, say the authors. Only around 3% of the population has been vaccinated.

While there are plans to significantly ramp up production of the Covaxin and Covishield vaccines, the target to vaccinate around 1 billion people may still not be reached this year, warn the authors.

“As any protection conferred by COVID-19 vaccine is expected to take at least 2 weeks after both doses, and with large demands, India will require many more sources of vaccines in the coming days and weeks to stem the current uptick in infections,” they write.

Initially, Covid-19 vaccination was available only in government hospitals and centers, free of cost, but to expand coverage, the government has allowed private hospitals to vaccinate.

These charge anything from $3 to $15, meaning that very few people can afford this cost. “Therefore, for stemming COVID-19, vaccinations must be free for all in India,” the authors insist.

A further complication is that when the Indian government decided to lower the age criteria for the jab it procured 50% of vaccines for its 36 states specifically for the over 45s, with the other half to be procured by state governments and private hospitals for those aged 18-44.

State governments have therefore been left to negotiate the costs themselves, which are higher than those negotiated by the government. For instance, one dose of Covaxin costs central government around $2, rising to around $5.4 for state governments, and to around $16 for private hospitals, they point out.

“This differential pricing….is likely to be detrimental to public health at this time of grave crisis in India,” creating inequitable distribution and potentially sparking public mistrust, they argue.

“For India to stem Covid-19, the nation cannot allow any differential approach for its residents,” they write.

And in an attempt to create a vaccination records infrastructure for adults and ensure that no one is missed, the Indian government has mandated pre-registration via a mobile app. But only around a third of people in rural areas have an internet connection, point out the authors. A simple vaccination card may be a better option, they suggest.

The Indian government has committed around $120 million for Covid-19 vaccine research, most of which is being used to scale up vaccine production, with the rest invested in new vaccine candidates, including those against variant strains.

“However, the funding pledged by the government is far from adequate,” warn the authors. “This will be concerning in scenarios where a 3rd booster shot is required. Hence, India needs a corpus of funds for the above that covers all future eventualities of vaccine deployment,” they argue.

“India may need to reset its vaccine strategies, enhance the competence level of pandemic management and spur the bureaucratic machinery so that vaccine equity can be achieved in a very short span of time,” they conclude.

 Reference: “The COVID-19 vaccination programme in India needs a shot in the arm, urgently and sustainably” 1 June 2021, BMJ Global Health.
DOI: 10.1136/bmjgh-2021-006324

2 Comments on "Experts Urge: Make COVID Vaccine Free for Everyone in India to Curb Death Toll"

  1. Sekar Vedaraman | June 2, 2021 at 8:37 pm | Reply

    Agreed.

    Cannot expect free 🆓🆓 markets to operate effectively or efficiently in a nation where average salary is fifty cents an hour.

    Except for the well off. Handful

  2. Sekar Vedaraman | June 2, 2021 at 8:59 pm | Reply

    Agreed.

    Cannot expect free 🆓🆓 markets to operate effectively or efficiently in a nation where average salary is fifty cents an hour.

    Except for the well off. Handful in India! All salaried who pay taxes have used up their savings.

    Earnings barely sufficient to put food on the table for family meals and pay rent. Lockdown makes it impossible.

    Throwing the 18 to 44 age groups to the wolves to fend for themselves , and let pharma majors dictate prices where supply vis a vis demand is skewed in favor of demand and supply chain issues making raw materials iffy makes it impossible for vaccine producing capital of the world to produce and supply vaccine demand at Affordable Price’s we have a conundrum.

    Churchill’s ‘an enigma wrapped in a mystery ” comes to mind when seeking what to do.

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