Addressing his first press conference on April 21 after a week-long hospital stay for COVID-19 treatment and subsequent home quarantine, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the Central government must necessarily take steps to provide the eligible supply of vaccine to all the States without pushing them into a financial crisis. The decision to charge Rs.400 for a dose of vaccine, he said, will place a heavy financial burden on the States, already reeling under the impact of the pandemic.
The Centre’s vaccination policy has affected States, including Kerala, adversely, he said. As per the new directive, manufacturers of vaccines need give only 50 per cent of their production to the Central government. The rest 50 per cent is being set apart for the States and the open market. The States have been to buy vaccines from the manufacturers. The States were already facing a huge financial burden because of COVID-19 pandemic. The Additional burden will push the States into further crisis. “The Serum Institute of India has declared that the Covishield vaccine, which the Central government gets for Rs.150, will be distributed to the States for Rs.400. Private institutions will be charged Rs.600. Thus, if the vaccine prices shoot up too, the States which are already facing a crisis tackling the pandemic, will be pushed into further financial crisis,” he said.
But Kerala will continue to provide vaccines free of cost to all its people, irrespective of age, he said: “We do not have the habit of changing our word every now and then. We have already said this. Vaccines will be free in Kerala.”
Asked whether the State will be able to meet the additional cost of buying vaccines at Rs.400 a dose as suggested by the Centre, the Chief Minter said: “What else should we do when the vaccines are a necessity? Ordinarily, such a burden is difficult for the State to undertake. That is why we informed the Centre that it must take up that responsibility and distribute the vaccines to the States free of cost. It is a decision that needs to be taken by the Centre. The Centre has so far not said anything further. Ordinarily, such demands are considered as the country’s common need and the Centre would respond to it. Let us hope that there will be suitable action from the Centre very soon.”
To a question seeking his comments on the criticism raised by V. Muraleedharan, Union Minister of State and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, that the Chief Minister and the State Health Minister were creating unnecessary fear among the people talking about “a non-existent vaccine shortage” and that instead of criticising the Centre, the State should buy vaccines on its own and distribute it to the people, Pinarayi Vijayan said: “If I reply to the Minister’s statement, it will not be conducive to the atmosphere that needs to be created at this stage. The pandemic is spreading fast and we need to tackle it with alertness. For that, we need to take all necessary precautions. That is what we need to concentrate on right now. But people who claim themselves to be apostles of the Central government come here and make such dark statements, and they will only vitiate the general atmosphere. It will destroy the atmosphere of unity that should be created at this point of time. There is nothing wrong in a State asking the Centre to do its duty. There is no question of raising a fear as part of it. Experience has shown that the State will not be slack in undertaking its own responsibilities fully. This will continue in the future too. It is better if people [such as Muraleedharan] started seeing all this with a bit of responsibility. That is all that I have to say now.”
He also said that it was the State’s duty to inform the Centre of its problems. There was no political motive in this and no question of whipping up fear and it was the Centre’s duty to provide the necessary vaccines to the States. “What is required is a united effort by the Centre and the States to control the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
Pointing out that Kerala is one of the States that has ensured zero wastage during vaccine distribution, he said the State had made arrangements for distributing 3.5 lakh doses of vaccine a day and 62,22,976 doses of vaccine have been distributed so far. “But a shortage of vaccines is the main problem that we are facing now. The State has informed the Centre of this crisis. And I think that the Centre’s response will not be the same as that of some of these people.”
The Central government should also take steps quickly to increase vaccine production, he said. There should be no compromise on the government’s responsibility to protect people’s lives. Health is the constitutional responsibility of the States. The Centre should ensure the required quota to the States to help them do their duty and, in the context of the pandemic, provide them without cost to the States. He said: “It should not push the States into a competition with businessmen in the open market. Instead of a Central government channel, there should be a common government channel controlled and run by the Centre and the States for vaccine distribution,” the Chief Minister said.