The cost of vaccinating all above the age of 18 against Covid, is estimated at Rs 67, 193 crore. This is over and above the Rs. 5010 crore that has already been incurred by the Modi government.
A few days back, the Narendra Modi government, via an affidavit told the Supreme Court that it took various steps in the ‘most professional manner to equip the nation’ with everything required to deal with a surge in Covid-19 cases, including repeated reminders to States to ensure implementation of Covid appropriate behaviour, in public places. While there is a raging debate on rising Covid cases, what cannot be denied is that India’s mega vaccination drive is the fastest globally, with over 155 million people, already vaccinated. What this means is that, while 11. 23 percent of India’s overall population is vaccinated 16. 5 percent of the country’s adult population, stands vaccinated, already! Equally commendable is the fact that India’s fatality rate at 1. 11 percent, is also the lowest globally.
The cost of vaccinating all above the age of 18 against Covid, is estimated at Rs 67, 193 crore. This is nearly 0. 36 percent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). This is over and above the Rs 5010 crore that has already been incurred, by the Modi government. If we split it between the Union government and State governments, then the fiscal impact on the Union budget would be 0.12 percent of GDP and on the State budgets, it would 0. 24 percent of GDP. What stands out about the Modi government’s mega vaccination drive, the largest ever in the world, is its availability, accessibility, and affordability. Talking of affordability, let it be known here that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine costs $20. Some medical experts believe that two doses will not suffice and if one specifically goes for the Pfizer vaccine, one needs to take three jabs, which means the overall cost works out to $60 per person, or Rs 4500. Interestingly, those who are cheerleading for Pfizer and don’t mind paying $60, are outraged at having to pay between $4-$5.33.
Yes, Covishield, will now be given to Central and State governments at Rs 300 or $4, while Bhara Biotech’s Covaxin, will be given for Rs 400, or $5.33. Of course, private hospitals, which work on the basis of a commercial motive, will get the aforesaid vaccines at a slightly higher price. The moot point to note here is that, it is not vaccine discrimination or differential pricing, which is the problem. The issue is that of vaccine hypocrisy. For instance, the price of Covishield at private hospitals will be Rs 600 ($8) per dose. But is $8 really expensive? Certainly not! Plus most State governments are in any case, undertaking free vaccination drives, so where is the need for even debating, how consumers will be affected? Again, why are some State governments complaining about having to procure the vaccines at a higher cost for private hospitals? The Modi government has been generously allocating thousands of crores from the SDRMF and NDRF kitties. Ways and Means Advances (WMA) limits for States have been raised and Central grants are given, from time to time, if any given State faces a financial crunch. The grim truth is, the likes of Maharashtra, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, and Punjab, have completely abandoned their citizens, despite Health being a State subject. It is the Modi government that stepped in, to ensure that the people of these States were not left to the collective apathy and criminal lethargy of their incompetent Chief Ministers.
Explaining differential pricing, Adar Poonawalla of SII, said, “It is not a different price [for State and Central government supplies]. All government prices will henceforth be Rs 300 for new contracts. The Rs 150 per dose for the Central government was for prior commitment and contracts. It ceases to exist after we supply 100 million doses to them. We will also charge Rs 300 to any government, let me clarify that. “ The initial prices were kept very low globally as it was based on advance funding given by those countries for “at-risk”, vaccine manufacturing. “ Mr. Poonawalla also made the point that vaccines used in the universal immunisation programme were sold at a far lower price, as the volumes were large. He cited the example of pneumococcal vaccines that are sold at a higher price in the private market, while the government is charged only one-third the cost. However, there is the issue of much higher investment needed to scale up manufacturing capacity to fight the pandemic, to justify the higher costs. To aid scalability, the Modi government has given Rs 3000 crore as suppliers’ credit to SII. To ramp up production capacity, the Central government has given another Rs 1500 crore to Bharat Biotech. Also, to quote Poonawalla again, he said, “only a limited portion of Serum’s volume will be sold to private hospitals at Rs 600 per dose”. India is the only country that is selling the vaccine to private players, as India is also the only country that has a population of 1. 38 billion and has decided to vaccinate all adults on a war footing, so the public-private partnership is a must!
The Central government will continue to procure 50 percent of the vaccines and supply it to State governments for free administration to people above 45 years and when vaccinated in government facilities, States will be competing with private hospitals and with one another to procure the remaining 50 percent vaccines, in line with globally established best practices. So why is the leftist Lutyens’ Lobby in India, whining?
Did the second wave of Covid, take India by surprise? Well, the very nature of a global pandemic is such, that it can alter its course without any prior warnings and develop new mutations, despite the best, medical expertise. The USA, UK, and many European countries with supposedly superior health infrastructure, too fell prey to a vicious second, Covid wave. Hence, for Modi naysayers to isolate India and allege, we could have seen the double mutant variant coming our way, which is uncalled for. The hard truth is, no doctor, scientist, or healthcare expert, anywhere in the world, saw this 2nd wave coming.
Take the USA for example. Olympia Medical Center, a 204-bed hospital in Los Angeles, decided to close down in March 2021, after 74 long years, with 450 employees losing their jobs. And this is just one of the many dozens of hospitals that closed down. Many State-run and private hospitals in the USA summarily shut down in 2020, as they could not cope with the pressure of rising infections, missing staff, paucity of doctors, and lack of ICU beds, with States like Maryland, the worst hit. United Kingdom has had an equally dismal record. Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at University College London, on UK’s second wave, had this to say: “The death toll is not a surprise given the ferocity of the second wave. We had more deaths in the second wave than we did in the first wave”. The UK, with a population of just 70 million, saw 70, 000 deaths between January and March 2021 alone.
Coming back to India, in the last few weeks, the Modi government has launched a war against the Wuhan virus, on a war footing. Approval has been given to companies for scaling up manufacturing of Remdesivir injection from 74 lakh vials, to 90 lakh vials per month. Between September 2020 and 23rd April 2021, States were notified 24 times, the Modi government’s affidavit to the apex court said. States were repeatedly asked to adhere to various Covid SOPs and, to not let their guard down. Yet some States did precious little to follow Covid protocol, despite Health being a State subject. After breaking every rule in the Covid protocol rulebook, some Congress-ruled States like Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, have the audacity to now blame the Modi government!
The Modi government has undertaken a plethora of measures to contain Covid and ease oxygen shortage. Allocating money from PM-Cares Fund to install 551 dedicated pressure swing adsorption (PSA), oxygen generation plants, procurement of 1 Lakh portable oxygen concentrators, and allowing Oil PSUs to set up medical oxygen generation plants at 93 locations across the country, are some of these timely measures. PSU behemoth, Steel Authority of India (SAIL) has enhanced its oxygen production capabilities and since August 2020, it has supplied over 36, 757 MT of Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO), across the country. In addition to this, the Indian Air Force airlifted two cryogenic oxygen containers from Dubai and Singapore to meet the domestic demand for medical oxygen. Invoking the Disaster Management Act on 25th April 2021, the Modi government ordered States that all liquid oxygen, including existing stock with private plants, would be used for medical purposes only. The Centre has, therefore, made all arrangements for the production of medical oxygen but some States have failed in their duty to work with the Centre to transport oxygen, resulting in artificial shortages. It is due to the mismanagement and mishandling of States that patients are suffering for want of oxygen. Until 26th April 2021, the “Oxygen Express” started by Indian Railways, had transported over 302 MT of oxygen to various States.
In fact, the Modi government began preparedness for the 2nd wave of Covid-19 as early as April 2020, for which in a letter dated 7th April 2020, addressed to all States/ UTs, the GoI granted permission to manufacturers of industrial oxygen to manufacture oxygen for medical use in the light of Covid-19. In order to fulfill the shortage of beds required for Covid patients, railway coaches have been converted and used as beds. Over 4000 coaches, with 64, 000 beds have been put in place in various States. With rising cases of Covid in New Delhi, the Modi government instructed the DRDO to build a 1000 bed Covid care hospital in Delhi, which was functional by July 2020. Another 250 beds have been added to the hospital in April 2021 by the Central government.
Speaking of the vaccine drive, the Modi government approved two vaccines, namely Covishield, manufactured by Serum Institute of India, and Covaxin, manufactured by Bharat Biotech. Covaxin, is reportedly, effective against the 617 double mutant variant, as per Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the White House. Apart from this, “Sputnik V”, the Russian vaccine has also received the required approvals and so has ‘Virafin’, to be manufactured by Zydus Cadila. It is also pertinent to note that India has supplied Made in India vaccines to 95 countries so far through ‘Vaccine Maitri’ project and it is because of this vaccine diplomacy, that right from the United Nation and World Health Organisation, to nations like Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Singapore, and United States, among others, all have helped India with essential supplies in the second wave of Corona, showcasing how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Soft Power”, is holding India in good stead. These nations are supplying India with necessary mobile oxygen plants, ventilators, oxygen concentrators, and more. liquid oxygen containers, among others.
E-Sanjeevani platform has proved useful. Within 10 days of its launch in August 2020, over 2 lakh phone calls for tele-medication were attended to. The PM Cares fund which had allocated over Rs 2, 000 Crore for the manufacture of 50, 000 “Made in India” ventilators, has been a big help. In the Union Budget for 2021-22, a 137 percent increase in allocation was made for the healthcare sector, to Rs 2. 23 lakh crore. States, last year, received from the Modi government, Rs 32, 000 crore from the State Disaster Relief Management Fund, on a priority basis, to fight Covid. Hence reports of States not getting resources to fight Covid, are baseless.
Every sixth person in the world is an Indian. Also, India has a high population density of 455 persons per square kilometre. In the given circumstances, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to vaccinate everyone from 18 years onward, is an extraordinarily bold move but completely doable. The adult population in India is 940 million. To vaccinate the entire adult population requires 1880 million doses, assuming two doses per person. To vaccinate the entire adult population in the next 9 months, requires vaccine production of 220 million doses, per month. SII, in the next couple of months, will scale up production to 100 million doses per month, while Bharat Biotech will scale up production to 70 million doses, monthly. Zydus Cadila and Dr. Reddy’s will likely produce 70 million doses each, per month, of Virafin and Sputnik-V, respectively. Effectively, speaking, between these four players, against the much-needed 220 million doses per month, India’s vaccine production capacity in the next few weeks will be 310 million doses per month. Hence, even after vaccinating the entire adult population by January 2021 and assuming a wastage rate of 5 percent, India will still be left with surplus vaccines.
One is not even counting the extra doses that would be available via imports or via more Covid vaccines that could be made available. If SII’s Novavax or Bharat Biotech’s intranasal spray gets operational in the next few weeks or months, the Narendra Modi government’s mega vaccination drive will get an added boost. The bad news for India bashers is the fact that, even by conservative standards, India is all set to vaccinate its entire adult population by early 2022 and this lot may just end up eating humble crow. The good news for Indians and India lovers is the fact that Prime Minister Modi ran the world’s biggest food security program amidst a full fledged lockdown in 2020, wherein every month, for 9 months in a row, 810 million people were given free food grains. Basically, every month, for 9 months at a stretch, India fed a population that was almost 2. 5 times, the size of the USA. In 2021, in yet another ambitious turn of events, India is on the cusp of the largest and most ambitious vaccination drive, ever, in mankind. Given his past track record of seamlessly translating vision into reality, PM Narendra Modi is set to deliver, yet again!
Sanju Verma is an Economist, National Spokesperson for BJP, and Bestselling Author of “Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic”.