Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on Monday amid a steady decline in the number of Covid-19 cases across India.
The Centre will provide coronavirus vaccines free of cost to all states from June 21 for the inoculation of all adults, Modi announced in his address.
He further said that the Centre will distribute 75 per cent of the Covid vaccines for free to all states and UTs, while private hospitals will be able to procure 25 per cent of vaccines but they cannot charge more than Rs 150 per dose over the pre-fixed price. He also added that Centre will be taking over the states’ 25 per cent vaccine procurement quota.
While noting that the demand for Covid vaccines is huge and pharma companies are producing very few doses, Modi said, India left no stone unturned to procure vaccines and essential medicines.
“Vaccination is the only shield against Covid-19,” the prime minister further said adding that India has worked on mission mode to tackle the virus. Within one year, India launched two made-in-India vaccines and we have proved that we are no less than the rest of the world, he added.
Covid-19 vaccination supply will increase in India and we will get jabs from more countries, the PM said adding that research is underway in the country for a nasal spray Covid vaccine. Modi also said that health officials in India are trying to conduct Covid vaccine trials for children.
In his over-30-minute-long address to the nation, Modi also sought to take on critics of his government's vaccine policy, saying many states had demanded decentralisation of the vaccination programme and some had even questioned the selection of priority age groups before realising the original strategy worked better.
The change in the government's vaccine strategy comes days after the Supreme Court on June 2 asked the Centre to place on record all relevant documents and file notings reflecting its thinking culminating in the COVID-19 vaccination policy, and states questioning the central government over the alleged shortage of vaccines.
Justice D Y Chandrachud had questioned the vaccine procurement policy and also raised the issue of the digital divide questioning the policy of mandatory registration on CoWIN App for jabs.
In his televised address, Modi, however, highlighted that it was due to the demands for de-centralisation from many states that his government decided to allow them 25 per cent procurement from May 1.
Government sources said a plan for a centralised free vaccination was presented to the prime minister on June 1 on completion of one month of the decentralised model.
Modi had given in-principle approval in that meeting and the groundwork for it began on June 1 itself before being announced on Monday, they added.
"Various voices were raised like why age-group was chosen for vaccination. Someone said why should the Centre decide on the age limit. Some even said why the elderly were being given a priority. All kind of pressures were created. A section of media ran a campaign," Modi said in his address.
However, states soon realised the difficulties of the vaccination exercise when they were given the choice, he said, adding that many of them began to say that the earlier mechanism was better.
"It has been decided today that the central government will take over the 25 per cent doses assigned to states and this will be implemented in the next two weeks. From June 21 (International Day of Yoga), the Centre will provide free vaccines to states...Till now, crores of people got free vaccines, now 18 years segment will be added to this," Modi said.
"For all people, whether it is the poor, the lower middle class, the middle class, or the upper-middle class, under the central government programme, everyone will get free vaccines," the prime minister said.
While BJP leaders and ministers lauded Prime Minister Modi for the new vaccination policy, many others on social media were seen crediting the Supreme Court and Justice Chandrachud for the change in the strategy. Opposition Congress asked the government to stop creating confusion with changing policies and demanded that every citizen should get Rs 6,000 in their accounts along with free vaccination.
Modi said the Centre and states will make necessary preparations in the coming two weeks as per new guidelines.
While elaborating on the reasons for the change in the vaccination policy, Modi said as the corona cases started declining, questions arose about the lack of choice for states and some people questioned why the central government is deciding everything.
Flexibility in lockdown and one-size-does-not-fit-all type of arguments were forwarded and the Centre took steps taking all such demands into account, he said.
Noting that starting from January 16 to April end, India's vaccination programme was run mostly under the central government, Modi said free vaccination for all was moving forward and people were showing discipline in getting vaccinated when their turn came.
In the midst of all this, demands for decentralization of vaccination were raised, priority to certain age groups was questioned and many types of pressures were exerted and certain sections of media took it as a campaign, he said in an apparent attack on opposition parties and the state governments run by them.
After a lot of deliberations, it was decided that states' demand should be taken into account and 25 per cent of vaccine procurement was given to them from May 1 for which they made efforts, Modi said.
However, he said, the states soon realised that what kind of difficulties come in such a big work and by the passage of two weeks in May, some states started saying openly that the earlier system was better.
"Gradually many state governments started advocating this... It was a good thing that in time the states came forward again with the demand for reconsideration. On this demand, we also thought that the people of the country should not suffer and their vaccination should be done smoothly, for which, the old system which was in place before May 1 will be brought back," he said.
Later, top official sources said India is on track to achieve its target of vaccinating the entire adult population by December as it will have a supply of 187.2 crore vaccine doses by the year-end, almost enough to account for full vaccination against Covid of 94 crore estimated 18-year plus population.
While India will have 53.6 crore doses between January and July, the availability of vaccines will increase to 133.6 crore doses between August and December with more firms supplying jabs and ramping up of production from the existing companies, they said.
In another major announcement, the prime minister said a decision has been taken to extend Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna till Deepawali.
This means that till November, 80 crore people will continue to get a decided amount of free food grain every month.
During the pandemic, the government is standing with the poor for all his needs as his friend, the prime minister asserted.
As several states take cautious steps towards unlocking and easing of restrictions with a decline in COVID-19 cases, the prime minister said vaccination is like a protection shield against the virus and asserted that vaccine supply would be increased significantly in India in the coming days.
Modi said seven companies are producing various vaccines against the coronavirus in the country and trials of three more vaccines is at an advanced stage.
Amid concerns expressed by experts recently over children being affected by the virus, Modi said trials of two vaccines are being carried out in this direction.
Modi said research is continuing on a nasal spray vaccine which, if successful, can significantly boost India's vaccination drive, he said.
India proved its mettle by making two made-in-India COVID-19 vaccines in a short time and over 23 crore doses have already been administered, the prime minister said.
Modi said that globally, vaccine producing companies and countries are far less than what is the global demand for the vaccines and in such a scenario, made in India vaccines were critical for India.
The Prime Minister pointed out that in the past, India used to get vaccines decades after they were developed abroad, and asserted that this always resulted in a situation in the past where India could not even start vaccination while other countries used to finish the vaccine work.
Modi said that by working in mission mode, "we raised the vaccination coverage from 60 per cent to 90 per cent in 5-6 years".
"We not only enhanced the speed but also widened the ambit of vaccination," he said.
This time, the prime minister, said India warded off all the apprehensions and through clean intentions, clear policy and constant hard work, not just one but two made-in-India vaccines for COVID were launched in India.
India is fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic on multiple fronts and new health infrastructure has been created across the country, he asserted.
India has gone through a lot of pain during this battle and many lost their loved ones, he noted and extended his condolences to the bereaved families.
The prime minister also warned against people who are spreading rumours against vaccination and said such people are playing with the lives of people and there was a need to stay vigilant against them.
Modi has addressed the nation a number of times since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the last being on April 20, during which he has offered suggestions to the people and also outlined various measures his government has been taking to deal with the situation.
(With PTI inputs)