Congress Slams Centre For “Profiteering” Amid Row Over Vaccine Prices


India began its national Covid vaccination drive January 16 (File)

New Delhi:

The Congress on Sunday accused the centre of “profiteering of Rs 1,11,100 crore” in the middle of a pandemic and stepped up its attack on a “discriminatory and insensitive vaccination policy”, underlining tension over manufacturers charging up to 700 per cent more per dose in the open market.

Party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said the centre had “abandoned” India’s young – those between 18 and 45, who can get vaccinated from May 1 – by asking them to pay more per dose than those older had; people over 45 were vaccinated either for free or at nominal prices.

“Modi government’s vaccination policy has deregulated 50 per cent production of the two vaccine manufacturers – Serum Institute (Covishield) and Bharat Biotech (Covaxin) – as free from price regulation… to fix the prices for supply to states and private institutions,” the Congress said.

“The two have now released an absolutely discriminatory pricing policy…” the party added.

This week both Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech announced the prices of their Covid vaccine on the open market. SII’s Covishield will cost states Rs 400 per dose and private hospitals Rs 600. Covaxin will cost Rs 600 per dose for state governments and double that – Rs 1,200 – for hospitals.

Both will continue to sell 50 per cent of their output to the centre at Rs 150 per dose. The centre has said it will make its share of vaccines available for free, but has not commented on the higher prices.

For an individual to get the recommended two doses it could, therefore, cost as much as Rs 2,400.

The pricing – part of the centre’s new “liberalised” vaccination policy – has attracted criticism from opposition parties, who have reminded the centre of it’s “one nation, one price” war cry.

In today’s attack the Congress revealed its calculations of “profit of the two manufacturers”, based on the need to vaccinate 101 crore people – the total number of Indians below the age of 45.

“…we need 202 crore doses… assuming states will provide 50 per cent of vaccines and individuals will bear 50 per cent of the cost, profit to SII and Bharat Biotech will be Rs 1,11,100 crore,” the party said.

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Covaxin and Covishield are the only two Covid vaccines available in India at this time (File)

The Congress urged the centre to realise that nearly a third of this group of 101 crore – around 31 crore according to the 2011 census – are BPL (below poverty line), while crores more come from marginalised or economically backward communities, and would struggle to pay for the vaccines.

Several states – many of which are not governed by the ruling BJP – have now said the vaccines will be available to all free of cost; this list of states includes Maharashtra, Bengal, Jharkhand and Rajasthan.

Faced with criticism over its pricing decision, the Serum Institute on Saturday released a statement flagging “inaccurate comparisons between the global prices of the vaccine with India”.

India began its national vaccination drive in January and has administered over 14 crore shots so far, but experts say this number needs to improve – drastically and soon – to counter a devastating second wave of infections that has seen the active caseload skyrocket to over 27 lakh inside the past month.





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