Dear PM Modi, Lord VISHNU Can Rescue India’s Vaccination Campaign

VISHNU, the Preserver, could be the invocation that shall bless, redeem India’s flailing COVID-19 inoculation drive.

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Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Vivek Gupta
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I was stunned when Union cabinet ministers hit back with characteristic aggression against people who were fearing a looming shortage of vaccines in India. “What shortage?” they thundered. “We’ve got 2.4 crore doses in storage and 1.9 crore in the pipeline (that is, a total of 4.3 crore doses)."

Somebody ought to have done their math homework:

  • 4.3 crore = Currently assured, visible supply of vaccines
  • 150 crore = Doses needed in India, in double quick time, to become safe
  • 4.3 crore = Less than 15 days of supply at 30 lakh/day vaccination rate

But we maintain:

  • 74 days of petroleum reserves
  • 18 months of food supplies
  • 13 months of imports can be bought by foreign exchange reserves

Precarious Fragility of India’s Vaccine Supply Infrastructure

Surely, the vaccine is currently as critical as food or petrol or imports? Now, look at the precarious fragility of our supply infrastructure:

About 90 percent of vaccines come from one manufacturing facility in virus-ravaged Pune. God forbid, one anhonee (unthinkable tragedy), and 90 percent of our supply line could go bust (not to be alarmist, but there was a fire at that facility several weeks back).

So, in addition to math, has anybody in the government done their Lesson 101 in disaster scenarios and back-up planning?

How Lord Vishnu Can Rescue India’s Vaccination Campaign

Now, perhaps PM Modi would like to consider VISHNU – Vaccine Investment & Strategically Heightened Nirmaan (Development) Undertaking. This plan has got substance and nomenclature!

Allow Open Regime in Vaccine Production

Let’s begin with the production of vaccines, which should follow an Open Regime:

  1. India should openly woo all globally approved vaccines to be produced here
  2. Where possible – certainly for single-shot Covaxin and J&J – the government should buy IPRs (intellectual property rights) for domestic producers, converting the license into a ‘public good’, that is, any authorised local manufacturer could ‘buy’ the production rights for ‘Re 1’ and flood the local market with vials
  3. Vaccine production should be given prime of place in the government’s ambitious PLI (production linked incentive) Scheme worth Rs 9 lakh crore. After all, Serum Institute is asking for just 0.33 percent of this corpus, Rs 3000 crore, to double production to 12 crore doses per month!

Allow Dual Pricing for Public and Private Markets

Second, we should permit dual pricing for public and private markets:

  1. If India can allow dual pricing for essentials like food and water, why be shy of doing it for the third lifesaver today, the COVID-19 vaccine? Why can't we allow the rich to pay through their nose for their preferred vaccine brand at private facilities?
  2. And we should put a super-tax on freely importable vaccine doses, like J&J, administered at private hospitals, to cross-subsidise the free public vaccination.

Allow Two Distribution Channels In Sync with Dual Pricing

Third facet, we should permit two distribution channels:

  1. For public hospitals, the government should commandeer supplies at rock-bottom rates, but allow vaccines to be sold at a reasonable profit margin through private hospitals and distributors
  2. (This way) the government vaccinates the poor for free. The producers make a viable return on their investment. And paying consumers can exercise their choice to get the brand they prefer, jabbed at a place they like.
VISHNU could be the invocation that shall bless and redeem India’s flailing COVID-19 inoculation drive. Believe me, Lord VISHNU, the Preserver, would be the happiest!

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