Former Union Minister P Chidambaram took back his claim that no state government had demanded that they procure vaccines directly after a letter written by West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee in February resurfaced on social media.
Chidambaram had challenged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to furnish proof that state governments had asked to be allowed to get vaccines themselves after Modi said that the centre allowed states to buy vaccines in response to demands from states.
Chidambaram took to Twitter to state he was wrong.
On June 7, PM Modi announced that the central government will provide free vaccination to everyone above the age of 18 years with 75 per cent of vaccines produced to be procured by the centre and given to the states for free.
Modi added that the 25 per cent quota of vaccines that were being procured by states for those aged 18-24 since May 1, will now be procured directly by the Centre.The Modi government's move came a week after the Supreme Court criticised the centre's vaccine policy and demanded complete data on its purchase history of all COVID vaccines including Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik V.
The SC has asked the centre to clarify the dates of all procurement orders for vaccines, the quantity of vaccines ordered on each date and the projected date of supply.
Vaccination for people aged 18 and above had begun from May 1 with states and private institutions allowed to directly procure 50 per cent of vaccines produced by manufacturers. The remaining 50 per cent were being procured by the centre and allocated to states.
Ahead of the West Bengal polls earlier this year, Banerjee had written to the centre asking for states to be allowed to procure vaccines by themselves.
"We would request you to kindly take up the matter with appropriate authority so that state government is able to purchase the vaccines from designated points on top priority basis, because the West Bengal government wants to provide vaccination free of costs to all the people," Banerjee had written in her February 24 letter.
Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray had similarly written to the centre asking for states to be allowed to procure vaccines on their own. Following Monday's announcement, Thackeray acknowledged the state's difficulty in procuring vaccines on its own and thanked Modi for centralising vaccine procurement.
Even though Banerjee and Thackeray had asked the centre to allow states to source vaccines, other state chief ministers had been demanding a central vaccine procurement strategy in place with vaccine administration being left to states.
On Tuesday, the centre revealed that the chief ministers of Punjab, Kerala, Sikkim, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Tripura and Maharashtra along with the Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands had written to the centre asking for centralised procurement of vaccines.
After her February letter, Banerjee later backtracked and said that all vaccines should be procured centrally with the administration be left to states.
Banerjee's statement was in response to letters written by Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik on May 31 and June 2 respectively.
In his letter to CMs of 11 non-BJP ruled states, Vijayan called for cooperation between states in the spirit of federalism to pressure the centre in procuring vaccines.
Patanaik echoed Vijayan's thoughts in his letter stating that there "cannot be a battle among the states to compete against each other to procure vaccines".
Stating that global manufacturers are unwilling to sign contracts with individual states, Patnaik urged the centre to procure vaccines and supply it to states who will then take over the administrative duties.
"Under the circumstances, the best option available is for the Government of India to centrally procure the vaccines and distribute it among the States. At the same time, the execution of the vaccination programme has to be decentralised and states allowed the flexibility to determine their own mechanisms," Patnaik wrote.
The Amarinder Singh-led Punjab government announced on May 13 that it had joined the global COVAX facility alliance to procure vaccines. Singh had also directed the health department to explore the possibility of procuring vaccines from global manufacturers.