Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday announced that the Centre will provide free coronavirus vaccines to states for inoculation of all above the age of 18 from June 21. Addressing the nation, PM Modi said that the government has decided to buy 75 per cent of jabs from vaccine makers, including 25 per cent of the state quota, and give it for free to state governments.
He went on to add that private sector hospitals can continue to procure 25 per cent vaccines, and the service charge would be capped at Rs 150 per dose over a fixed price of the vaccine.
If free, why private hospitals allowed to take service fee: Rahul Gandhi
Hours after PM Modi concluded his televised speech, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to criticise the Centre, asking if vaccines are free for all, why should private hospitals charge for them.
"One simple question - If vaccines are free for all, why should private hospitals charge for them?" Rahul Gandhi, who represents Kerala's Wayanad in Lok Sabha tweeted with the hashtag of #FreeVaccineForAll.
'Vaccination policy tweak due to SC's wrath'
The Opposition led by the Congress linked the government's change in vaccination strategy with the Supreme Court's tough stand on the issue. The Opposition said that the top court had repeatedly raised questions over the Centre's 'faulty' vaccine policy.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, however, claimed the Centre had taken the step after being reprimanded by the Supreme Court which had questioned its 'botched' vaccine policy, and demanded that the prime minister apologise. "Better late than never, but never late is better Modi ji," a tweet from Congress' official Twitter handle said.
However, Punjab CM and veteran Congress leader Amarinder Singh was among top leaders welcoming the Centre's move.
Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin (DMK) and Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan (CPI-M) were among the state leaders who appreciated that the Centre had approved their request for free vaccine supply.
"Every life is precious. No one is safe until everyone is vaccinated. As a nation, we stand united in this fight against COVID-19 pandemic. Thank PM Shri Narendra Modi ji for making vaccination a national mission," Patnaik said.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, and AIMIM MP from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi offered sharp critcism of PM Modi's decision. Banerjee said the announcement should have been made months ago and that the delay has cost several lives.
"The well-being of the people of India should've been prioritized since the very start of this pandemic. Unfortunately, this delayed decision by PM has already cost many lives. Hoping for a better managed #VaccinationDrive this time that focuses on people & not propaganda!," the Trinamool Congress chief tweeted.
Owaisi said private hospitals will continue to have a 25 percent quota so that rich have a "VIP queue" while the poor will have to wait for vaccine availability.
"Reversal of vax policy seems to be the result of SC's order. Although blame of terrible vaccine policy has been put on states, it's Modi who failed to ensure vax supply (sic)," Owaisi tweeted.
BJP hits back at the Opposition
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) presented a strong defence of the latest vaccination policy change underlining that PM Modi is leading from the front in the war against Covid pandemic.
"Whenever there is any crisis in the country, our Prime Minister Modi ji has always led the country from the front," BJP president J P Nadda said.
"States were given the freedom to buy vaccines for those in the age group of 18-44 years. But many states were finding it difficult to do so. We are grateful that the prime minister has resolved this issue," Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said.
Union Minister Smriti Irani added that PM Modi's announcement shows that the government is committed for the people's cause.
(With inputs from agencies)