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Explained: Will COVID-19 vaccine be distributed for free?

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New Delhi, Oct 28: Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has promised while launching the Bihar election manifesto, that every citizen of Bihar would receive the COVID-19 vaccine for free once the BJP is elected in the northern state.

Explained: Will COVID-19 vaccine be distributed for free?

While the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has repeatedly stated that the vaccine will be distributed on the basis of priority, several politicians like Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Palaniswami stated that citizens of Tamil Nadu will receive the vaccine for free, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan has promised free vaccines for the poor in his state and Union Minister Pratap Sarangi said in Bhubaneshwar that a vaccine would be free across the board.

In reality, there is yet no clarity on whether a COVID-19 vaccine, whenever it is ready, will be free of cost for everyone in India and it being so would depend on the outcome of clinical trials underway to test the vaccine, said the head of the committee, Dr V K Paul, overseeing vaccine development as well as planning its distribution.

"Consultations are on, we are drawing up blueprints in trying to work this out. We have requested states to keep the national interest in mind in questions of vaccine prioritisation and availability," NITI Aayog member Dr Paul said to The Hindu on asking free availability of COVID-19 vaccine.

Even if a vaccine is approved by the end of 2020, the central government has to first work on improving its infrastructure to adapt to the needs of the vaccine.

India currently has 29,000 cold storage machines as a part of its Universal Immunisation Programme which includes 12 vaccines for children, said Rajesh Bhushan, Health Secretary at a press conference on October 20.

On October 11 in his Sunday Samvaad, Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan stated that the Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India vaccines need to be administered in two doses while the Zydus Vaccine needs to be administered in three doses.

Earlier on October 4, he also stated that the government plans to vaccinate over 20-25 crore people through 40-50 crore doses on priority by July 2021. This also means that not every citizen will receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

Adar Poonawala, CEO of SII, on September 26 questioned whether the Indian Government was willing to shell out around Rs 80,000 crore for the COVID-19 vaccine.

In response, on September 30, Rajesh Bhushan disputed the costs calculated by Poonawala. Though he did not state the exact amount calculated by the Ministry, Bhushan said that the National Committee was mulling over the costs.

The Oxford vaccine is priced at $2-$3 as decided by the vaccine manufacturers along with the distributors to ensure equitable access of the vaccine at affordable prices.

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    Notably, Serum Institute of India which is manufacturing the Oxford, AstraZeneca vaccine has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce 200 million doses under this scheme.

    India has, however, not discussed its strategy for pricing and providing immunisation for free, yet.

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