Bihar’s vaccination imbroglio gets no better as Sushil Modi says ‘pay for jab’

Nirmala Sitharaman, while releasing the BJP manifesto for last year’s assembly election, had promised free vaccines if her party returned to power

Modi said that the government’s decision to provide free vaccination to 5.47 crore people of Bihar in the age group 18-44 years will alone cause an additional burden of ₹4,500 crore

Senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member Sushil Kumar Modi on Thursday said that Bihar residents who can bear the cost of COVID-19 vaccination should necessarily make the payment.

His statement came as the NDA government in Bihar said it was getting ready to extend its free vaccination facility to all those above 18 years.

Modi said the minimum prices of both Covishield and Covaxin should be fixed, to be paid by those willing to do so.

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RJD legislator Bhai Birendra said Modi’s statement has no significance and that he just wanted to hog the media limelight. He said Modi should refrain from creating confusion at this critical time and hoped that the BJP would keep its poll promise of free vaccine for all at any cost.

The Bihar government will roll out its free vaccination programme for those between the 18-44 age group on May 1. People above 45 are already getting free COVID-19 jabs at both government and private hospitals.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while releasing the BJP manifesto for last year’s Bihar assembly election, had promised free COVID-19 vaccine if her party returned to power. Her announcement attracted strong criticism from the opposition.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has also announced that COVID-19 jabs will be given free to all those above 18 from May 1.

Modi said that the government’s decision to provide free vaccination to 5.47 crore people of Bihar in the age group 18-44 years will alone cause an additional burden of 4,500 crore. It includes the expenditure to be borne on transportation and maintenance of the vaccines. Every person has to be given two doses.

State Health Minister Mangal Pandey said that his department is working at all levels to check the surge of the pandemic. He said that more than 65 lakh people have been vaccinated in the state so far against the all-India figure of 15 crore.

The state government has decided to procure vaccines from the Serum Institute of India and has already placed its first order ahead of the vaccination programme.

Separate vaccination centres will be set up for the inoculation of those belonging to the 18-44 group.

Campaign Unable to Keep the Tempo

A senior doctor at a private hospital in Patna presented a different situation. He said when the vaccination programme started at his hospital on March 3, around 200-300 people used to visit, but that number has gradually come down. The hospital could not carry out the vaccination programme on Monday as it could not get supply of doses from a government hospital.

Currently, only 10 people on average are getting COVID-19 jabs every day.

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The doctor said the problems will only compound after the vaccination drive for those over 18 is rolled out and requested the state government to ensure adequate vaccine doses are available.

When contacted, state immunisation officer NK Sinha claimed all problems have been fixed and there is no shortage of vaccine doses.

More Vaccination Centres, Awareness Campaigns

There are two major challenges before the government – first, inadequate number of vaccination centres; two, lack of awareness among people.

The lack of adequate number of centres is affecting the vaccination programme to a great extent. There are only 2,644 centres in the state, including 49 in the private sector.

A senior health official said that the vaccination campaign will not achieve its objective until more centres are opened and a comprehensive awareness drive is launched to motivate people.

Earlier, Bihar had also faced the problem of inadequate number of data entry operators and attempts were made to rectify the problem by making them available through different departments. “Without it, the number of vaccination sites could not be increased,” said a health department official.

The lack of awareness among people is more intriguing. Against more than one lakh COVID-19 tests across the state in a single day, only 5,311 people were vaccinated on April 25. People are not volunteering for vaccination in substantial numbers.

The state has decided to involve around 4.5 lakh government schoolteachers and children to encourage eligible family members to take the jab. It will also engage around 1 crore Jeevika (women self-help group) workers and urban local body members as motivators.

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