Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written to chief ministers of 11 non-BJP states on June 1, urging them to demand the union government to ensure free universal vaccination. Below we publish the full text of the letter.
IT is learnt that the union government has taken a stand that the states should resort to their own measures to procure Covid-19 vaccine. The supply of vaccine is scarce when compared to the demand for the same. As we all know, the best way to build herd immunity against Covid-19 pandemic is universal vaccination.
I had already written to the prime minister pointing out the merits of the government of India taking the lead in assessing vaccine requirements of the states and float a global tender taking into account the needs of all states. It is also important to note that vaccine should be provided free of cost considering it as a public good, the access to which shall be denied to none due to lack of financial wherewithal.
At this juncture, when the nation is passing through the second surge, it is quite unfortunate that there appears to be an attempt by the centre to absolve itself of its bounden duty to provide adequate supply of vaccine to the states. The impact of the second surge has been unprecedented putting all of us in a state of alarm. Besides, experts have warned that a third surge of Covid-19 incidence is highly likely. This necessitates our heightened preparation and vigil to meet that eventuality too.
Given the above circumstances, if the burden of procuring vaccine is left to fall entirely or even substantially on the states, their fiscal situation will be in dire straits. Fiscal strength of the states is an essential part of a healthy federal setup. If the states’ finances are hamstrung, federalism itself will be weakened and this will not augur well for a democratic polity like ours. Further, this will impede the efforts for early building of herd immunity.
Herd immunity will be effective only when a substantial section of the population is vaccinated. As on date, only 3.1 per cent of the people have been administered two doses of Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccine manufacturing companies are engaged in looking for financial gains by exploiting the scarce supply situation. Foreign pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to enter into agreement with the states for procuring vaccine. India has public sector pharmaceutical companies which are capable of taking up the production of vaccine. Government of India should take necessary steps to ensure that intellectual property rights and patent laws and conventions do not stand in the way of manufacturing Covid-19 vaccine, which should have the status of a public good. Options like compulsory licensing should be explored by the union government.
Statements to the effect that the responsibility to provide vaccine entirely falls within the realm of the states defies the very basis of the co-operative federal system. The need of the hour is united effort from our side to put forth the genuine demand that the centre should procure vaccine needed by the states and distribute them free of cost. This will be more cost effective as well.