Will poor & underprivileged get vaccine for free? Cong asks govt

Will poor & underprivileged get vaccine for free? Cong asks govt

New Delhi: A day after India rolled out the world's largest inoculation drive against COVID-19, the Congress on Sunday asked whether the government plans to provide free vaccines to all Indians, especially the underprivileged and the poor, and when.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that though the government claims it will cover three crore people in the first round of the vaccination drive, it is yet to clarify if the remaining population of India will get a vaccine and whether they will get it for free.

"Is the government not aware that 81.35 crore people are eligible for subsidised ration under the Food Security Act? Will the SC, ST, BC, OBC, BPL, APL, the poor and the underprivileged get the vaccine for free or not? If yes, what is the roll-out plan and by when will the government ensure free vaccination," he asked at a press conference. "Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP government need to answer...Who will get free corona vaccine? How many people will get the free corona vaccine? Where will you get free corona vaccine," he said.

Surjewala also raised questions over the pricing of the two vaccines –Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech and Covishield from the Oxford/AstraZeneca stable manufactured by the SII –approved for emergency use in India and asked why the government has not put them in the National List of Essential Medicines.

The Congress general secretary asked why the government should pay Rs 95 more to Bharat Biotech for a vaccine that has been developed with the expertise and experience of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) scientists.

"Should the price of such a vaccine not be cheaper than the AstraZeneca-Serum Institute? Why is the price of corona vaccine Rs 1,000 per dose in the open market," he asked.

He said the government should seek transparency from companies on the cost of production and profits being made from the vaccine.

Surjewala also dubbed the launch of the vaccination drive as a "publicity stunt" and said many vaccines have been developed by the country's scientists in the past but those were never turned into such an event.

"Vaccine development and mass immunizations are neither events nor publicity stunts, but important milestones in the service of people. While India stands united in providing immunisation against the coronavirus to our frontline corona warriors –doctors, health workers, police personnel and others –let's remember that vaccinations are an important public service and not a political or business opportunity," he told reporters.

Surjewala said, "Corona vaccine for all should be the policy of this government."

Congress leader P Chidambaram also said that it is not the government but the vaccine developed by scientists that will win the war against the coronavirus.

"It is the vaccine or vaccines that will win the war against COVID-19, not the government or mythological beliefs. If we win this battle, the entire credit should go to the scientists and researchers around the world, including India. Let us salute our scientists and pledge to promote science and develop a scientific temper," he tweeted.

The first COVID-19 vaccine shots in India were given on Saturday to nearly two lakh frontline healthcare and sanitation workers.

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