A vaccine for COVID may still be only in the works, but it has already become a political ballgame with parties promising free shots in the states headed for elections.
After the BJP promised that it would offer the vaccine free if it returns to power along with the JD(U) in Bihar, the AIADMK-led government in Tamil Nadu has followed suit.
“The COVID-19 vaccine will be given to all people of the state for free when it becomes ready,” chief minister E Palaniswami said. The state will have the Assembly elections next year.
In Bihar, the elections will start on October 28. Releasing the BJP’s manifesto on Thursday, union finance minister Niramala Sitharaman said that if it is voted to power, the party will ensure that everyone in the state gets the vaccine for free when it becomes available.
This has, however, come for heavy criticism from opposition parties and in social media. The opposition parties alleged the BJP was preying on the fears of people.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi ridiculed the manifesto saying those who wanted the vaccine for free should check when their states are going for Assembly elections and accused the BJP of making false promises. “(The) GOI just announced India’s Covid access strategy. Kindly refer to the state-wise election schedule to know when will you get it, along with a hoard of false promises,” he said in a tweet.
Shashi Tharoor, also of the Congress, termed it as “appalling cynicism”. “तुम मुझे वोट दो मैं तुम्हे वैक्सीन (You give me vote, I will give you vaccine)… what appalling cynicism! Will the ElectionCommission rap her & her shameless Govt on the knuckles?,” he tweeted after Sitharaman made the announcement.
Tejashwi Yadav, the leader of the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar, said the vaccine should belong to the whole nation and not just the BJP.
The BJP, however, said it is for individual states to decided whether to give the vaccine for free. The Centre will make the vaccine available to states at a nominal cost, it will be up to them to give it free or not as health is a state subject, BJP’s IT cell in charge Amit Malviya said.
Many vaccine candidates across the world are at different stages of trials. In India, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech are leading the efforts to make a vaccine available.
The Serum Institute has tied up with AstraZeneca for conducting trials of the vaccine the pharma major is developing in association with Oxford university in the UK. Currently, phase 2 and phase 3 trials are on. Brazil on Wednesday said a volunteer who was given the vaccine during clinical trials has died.
Bharat Biotech is developing an indigenous vaccine in collaboration with the Indian Council for Medical Research.