Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya repeated a misleading claim of "Sabko Vaccine, Muft Vaccine"- Free Vaccine for All - while tweeting pre-birthday wishes to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his birthday on September 17. Even though the government procures 75 per cent of the vaccines available in the country, 25 per cent is still purchased by the private sector and made available for the citizens.
Mandaviya further asked the countrymen to get vaccinated in large numbers as a birthday gift for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India has so far administered close to 79 crore vaccine doses in the country according to the Cowin dashboard. With over 2 crore (20 million) doses administered in India till 5 pm on September 17, India is set to administer the highest ever single day doses in the world on the PM's birthday. The previous highest was on September 1 when India administered 1.33 crore doses.
"Sabko Vaccine, Muft Vaccine" was a slogan that the Prime Minister gave when vaccines for all adults between the ages of 18-44 were going to begin on May 1. In the initial stages, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had shared that the Centre would procure 50 per cent of the vaccines. The remaining 50 per cent was supposed to be distributed between the States, UTs and the private players.
After the Supreme Court pulled up the Centre for its arbitrary vaccination policy for the 18-44 age group and confusing the citizens, PM Modi in an address to the nation declared that the Centre would procure vaccines, even for the ones in the 18-44 age group and distribute them for free at the public centres. The private centres would still continue to procure 25 per cent of the produced vaccines directly from the manufacturers.
The government has fixed charges for the three vaccines that are currently available at private hospitals in the country. For Covishield, private hospitals can charge ₹780, for Covaxin they can charge ₹1410, and for Sputnik they can charge ₹1145.
Furthermore, the government had always intended to let the private hospitals be a part of the vaccination drive in the country. While other countries are vaccinating their citizens for free even at private hospitals, in India that is not the norm.
The slogan "Sabko Vaccine, Muft Vaccine" thus does not hold true as there were over 3,449 private vaccination sites in the country on September 17. Even though the number of public vaccination sites stand at 1,06,928 they are skewed across states. On September 17, India had at least 1,10, 387 active vaccination sites across the country.
The government however has till date not shared the total number of vaccines administered by the public and the private sector, respectively. When asked at the weekly press conference, Rajesh Bhushan, Health Secretary shared that the Health Ministry would provide this bifurcation in the next press briefing which is likely to be held on September 23.
With such a large number of public health centres providing vaccines, it also becomes important to know the number of vaccines allocated to each centre. People raised many complaints when they failed to secure a public sector slot on Cowin since they have been scarcely available. Even under the walk-in system, there is no assurance of receiving the vaccine on the specific day as centres run out of shots. This has forced many citizens to opt for private centres by paying the fee rather than wait for a free vaccine.
An RTI reply shows that only a handful of States like Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala are actually seeing private hospitals procure more than 25 per cent of the vaccines but overall the private sector has purchased only 10 per cent of the vaccines. There have been debates about whether the Centre should reduce the percentage for the private sector and the Ministry has said that they will deliberate on the same.
The government always spoke about vaccines being completely free for health and frontline workers. For election-bound states, the government spoke about free vaccines. Yet, states like Bihar also have private centres distributing the COVID-19 vaccines.
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