As the vaccination drive was opened for ages 18 and above on 1 May, a race on the CoWIN website started. A race that was discriminatory, and deeply unfair.
With demand for jabs far outnumbering the supply, tech-savvy Indians with access to smartphones and high-speed internet started subscribing to Telegram alerts and booking slots through multiple apps. Not only this, some rich and privileged people didn’t shy away from driving up to hundreds of kilometres to get their shot in remote villages.
Poor and underprivileged communities; those who live in urban slums, who still don’t have access to 4G internet in their villages, people who don’t know how to operate a smartphone, those who had to walk up to 40 kms to reach a PHC, were left behind. Women and marginalised groups who tend to have even less digital access were affected the most.
On 11 May, our members at Jhatkaa.org supported a tweetstorm organised by the Internet Freedom Foundation, demanding an accessible and inclusive vaccination process. Twitter got flooded with tweets asking for a change in India’s vaccination policy riddled with access and inequity problems.
Soon, #VaccinateIndia started trending on Twitter. We launched a petition the next day, to demand an equitable and accessible vaccination policy for India.
The Supreme Court also harshly criticised the vaccination policy taking into account the suo moto case filed on COVID issues. A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat pointed out that India’s vaccination policy was prima facie arbitrary and irrational.
With pressure increasing from all sectors, the government of India finally made some big but important changes to the existing vaccination policy.
Under the earlier Covid vaccine policy, half of all vaccines produced in India were procured by the central government, and the rest went to state administrations and private hospitals. But now the central government will procure 75% of all vaccines manufactured.
The state governments will receive their vaccine doses for free from the central government, instead of negotiating directly with manufacturers.
You might have seen how some luxury hotels in association with private hospitals were offering “Covid-19 vaccination packages”.
With the revised policy coming into effect, private hospitals can charge only ₹150 as service charge over and above the price of the vaccine. The maximum price that can be charged by private centres is ₹780 for Covishield, ₹1,410 for Covaxin; and ₹1,145 for Sputnik V. The total cost of vaccination will be displayed on the CoWIN portal at the time you book your slot.
India’s vaccination policy was proving to be discriminatory against those who didn’t have access to smartphones and internet connection. However, from 21 June, all government and private vaccination centres will provide an onsite registration facility. A detailed procedure is to be finalised and published by the states.
Also, the central government has now allowed walk-in registration for vaccination for the 18-44 age group. However, the option is only open at government-run Covid vaccination centres for now.
We welcome the changes made in the policy. However, the central government must ensure that vaccine shortage doesn’t become a barrier in inoculating India’s population against the virus. Also, it’s important to see how the government tackles vaccine hesitancy that still prevails in several parts of the country.