In her budget speech on 1st February, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced a provision of Rs35,000 crore for COVID vaccination for FY21-22. However, so far, the government has released just Rs4,488.75 crore for buying vaccine from two companies, as a reply received under Right to Information (RTI) Act shows.
The RTI application was filed by Pune-based activist Sanjay Shirodkar with the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW). The ministry, in its reply, says, "The union budget 2021-22 provides for Rs35,000 crore for COVID-19 vaccination. Out of which Rs4,488.75 crore has been released towards the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines covishield (AstraZeneca's vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India-SII) and covaxin (manufactured by Bharat Biotech International Ltd) till date and doses of these COVID-19 vaccines for health care workers (HCWs), front line workers (FLWs) and persons above 45 years of age, are distributed to the states and union territories (UTs) free of cost."
Earlier this month, in a statement, the ministry had clarified that the government paid Rs1,732.50 crore to Serum Institute of India (SII) on 28th April for 110 million doses of Covishield vaccine during May, June, and July. Additionally, 100% advance of Rs787.50 crore was released on the same day to Bharat Biotech for supply of 50 million covaxin doses during May, June and July 2021, the ministry says.
Mr Shirodkar, however, questions the motive behind not releasing enough money for COVID vaccination. He says, "Who are responsible for people dying due to lack of vaccines, or delay in placing the order for vaccines, and not releasing enough money to buy vaccines? We live in a country where the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) transfers Rs99,122 crore surplus money to the central government. However, the government has not released sufficient money to buy vaccines that would save the people of India."
So far, the government of India has provided, both through the free of cost category and through direct state procurement category, more than 220 million vaccine doses to states and UTs.
“Of this, the total consumption, including wastages is 20.14 crore doses, as per data available at 8am Wednesday. More than 1.77 crore COVID vaccine doses are still available with the states and UTs (Union Territories). to be administered. Furthermore, 1 lakh vaccine doses are in the pipeline and will be received by the states and UTs (Union Territories). within the next three days,” the MoHFW says in a release.
A few days ago, the Union government had told the Supreme Court that no governmental aid, assistance, or grant had been made either for research or development of either Covaxin or Covishield vaccines but some financial assistance was given for conducting clinical trials.
In an affidavit, the Centre had said that Covaxin has been developed under a public private partnership (PPP) arrangement between the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Bharat Biotech.
"ICMR has not provided any funds to Bharat Biotech for covaxin development. However, funds have been spent on various activities undertaken by ICMR-National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune for covaxin development. Also, phase 3 clinical trials of covaxin have been funded by the ICMR. The trials have been conducted at 22 sites in 25,800 participants," said the affidavit, which also provided details of activities undertaken by the ICMR-NIV, and that the total estimated expenditure of the ICMR in this was Rs35 crore.
For Covishield, the centre said the bridging studies of 1,600 participants in India were supported by the ICMR in partnership with the Serum Institute. Bridging study is a supplemental study performed in the new region to provide pharmacodynamic or clinical data on efficacy, safety, dosage and dose regimen.
"No funds were provided to the SII. Funds were transferred to 14 clinical trial sites. ICMR also supported laboratory studies on characterisation of immune response related to COVISHIELD at ICMR-National AIDS Research Institute (NARI), Pune," added the affidavit. The total estimated expenditure of ICMR was Rs11 crore.
However, a report from The Print
says, the Rs35,000 crore allotted for COVID vaccine is in the form of transfers to states. "A close look at the budget documents shows that the Rs35,000 crore allocation for 2021-22 for vaccines is in the form of transfers to states. At the same time, in the 2020-21 budget, the COVID vaccination allocation of Rs360 crore for healthcare and frontline workers is under the Central sector scheme of the National Health Mission," the report says.