With West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seeking a uniform vaccination policy for the country, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Friday assured her that the Modi government was firm in its resolve to help the state fight the COVID-19 pandemic, but also flagged more than 40 percent positivity rate in some districts of the state.
In a four-page letter addressed to her and posted on his Twitter timeline, Vardhan congratulated Banerjee for her victory in the recently held assembly elections and also asked her to focus on conducting more tests to detect infections in the state.
Referring to her letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on "further requirements for COVID-19 management in West Bengal", the minister said the Centre has been supporting each and every state "not just financially, but also through requisite diagnostics, therapeutics, medical devices, and other essential materials and services".
He further flagged a high positivity rate of over 40 percent in some districts of West Bengal and asserted that testing needed to be significantly ramped up.
"Similarly, we will need to augment the health infrastructure in the state significantly," he wrote. The letter came on a day when the West Bengal government moved the Supreme Court seeking directions to disband the Phase-III vaccine policy of the Centre and adoption of a uniform policy of procuring 100 percent doses of COVID-19 from vaccine manufacturers for equitable distribution to all the states and Union territories for free decentralized distribution.
The state government also sought to set aside the differential pricing mechanism for COVID-19 vaccines and capping the price for the vaccines at a uniform price of Rs 150 per dose.
The plea in the apex court followed letters written by Banerjee to Modi on various requirements listed by her for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vardhan, in his letter, also said that the objective of the COVID vaccination program launched by the central government is to ensure that all citizens of the country are covered eventually, dividing them into priority age groups based on their vulnerability and mortality risk.
"In accordance with the demand raised by the states, the New Liberalized Pricing and Accelerated National COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy, which has just kicked off, decentralizes the process and incentivizes the manufacturers to produce more. Equally, it encourages off-shore vaccine manufacturers to bring their vaccines into our country, thereby increasing the overall availability of the vaccines in India," the letter stated.
He said the Centre will continue to provide COVID-19 vaccine free to all the states/UTs, including West Bengal, for coverage of healthcare workers, frontline workers, and persons above 45 years of age calculated on the basis of the average consumption of the state.
As on date, West Bengal has been provided a total of 1,18,83,340 vaccine doses. Further 2,00,000 vaccine doses are in the pipeline for immediate supply, he said.
Based on the monthly production of vaccine manufacturers and Central Drugs Laboratory cleared doses projected to be available with the vaccine manufacturers, the number of doses available for "other than Government of India channel" was worked out on a state-wise population of 18 to 44 years pro-rata.
The Union health ministry has so far provided West Bengal with 18.38 lakh N95 masks, 4.84 lakh PPE kits, 1,245 ventilators, and 43.5 lakh Hydroxychloroquine tablets for the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vardhan pointed out.
As many as five Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) plants have been sanctioned for the state, out of which, two have already been installed and made functional. Similarly, 849 D-Type and 1504 B-Type oxygen cylinders have been allocated to West Bengal. Out of this, 700 will be delivered on or before May 21. This entire support has been provided free of cost, he said.
Vardhan added that as many as 94,400 vials of Remdesivir have, accordingly, been allocated to West Bengal for the period April 21 to May 9. The Centre has, in addition, delivered another 3,686 and 4,402 vials of Remdesivir in two tranches between May 4 and May 5, he said.
“Meanwhile, all steps are being taken to ensure increased availability of domestic Remdesivir in the country. On the Tocilizumab front, the Union government is making all efforts for equitable availability across the country, based on the active caseload in each state,” read the letter.
Apart from the delivery of essential medical devices and drugs, West Bengal has been supported with a financial grant of Rs 295.28 crore under the COVID-19 package, it said.
Vardhan also highlighted that West Bengal has been allocated 308 MT of oxygen to meet the demand for oxygen from April 25 onwards.
"In this regard, we had allocated the maximum possible amount to West Bengal at the time of the issue of the aforesaid order. Once the allocations are made, states are required to lift the allocated quantities from the assigned manufacturers," he said.
“… orders for oxygen cylinders have been placed for an additional 1,27,000 cylinders on April 21. The said procurement includes 54,000 jumbo cylinders (D type) as well as 73,000 regular cylinders (B type). Under this initiative, a tentative allocation for West Bengal is 849 D-Type and 1504 B-Type cylinders. Out of this, 700 cylinders will be delivered to the state on or before May 21,” he added.