In a country where political parties have promised voters all kinds of freebies—ranging from mundane chappals to the intangible WiFi—pledging a free vaccine in the time of a pandemic almost seems like a justifiable gesture. However, when finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced free COVID-19 vaccination as part of the BJP’s manifesto for Bihar, other political parties cried foul, saying the ruling party was using the pandemic for political gains. Some states like Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh were quick to join the race and announced free vaccination, making it difficult for other state governments to charge for the vaccine, whenever it is cleared for use after the necessary trials.
Other states and Union territories are being cautious and not willing to join the ‘free vaccine’ chorus. Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope says they want to wait for the vaccine to come to the state first and then decide on the cost. “The cost factor would be discussed once the vaccine comes, but it will definitely be subsidised,” he adds. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal too has desisted from making a commitment on offering free vaccination. “Why only Bihar? The entire country is facing the corona pandemic. Everyone has a right to free vaccines,” he told mediapersons in response to the BJP’s announcement. When asked whether his government would also give it free, he said: “We will see when it comes and how much it costs, and then decide.”