‘Country’s vaccine journey has been successful, inspirational’: Health minister
As India enters the next phase of the vaccination drive from Monday, Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan speaks to Hindustan Times on the country’s Covid-19 battle so far and how the government engaged in negotiations over the past few days to ensure that the cost of vaccination remains low at private hospitals. Edited excerpts:
How was the price limit of ₹250 per dose at private hospitals achieved?
There was a lot of effort that went from the government side to ensure that the prices remained nominal even for those who wanted to take the shot at a private health care facility. Days of very detailed and intense negotiations went behind making sure that private players brought down the cost of Covid-19 vaccination to this level. And see the results – we successfully managed to cap the cost at a reasonable rate of ₹250 per dose, making it about 500 to get fully vaccinated. However, it has been left up to them (private hospitals) if they are okay about charging a lower amount but the maximum amount cannot be more than ₹250 per dose.
The government has expanded vaccination sites by roping in private hospitals as Covid vaccination centres across the country in a big way. Do you think it will help?
Of course, the pace of vaccination will increase in coming days. You must understand that the Indian government has decided to vaccinate nearly every citizen of this country. It is a tall order but we have had the courage to take this decision and implement it, and we also have the necessary means required to do so. At government hospitals, the vaccination services are being provided free of cost but if a certain section of beneficiaries has its reservation about getting vaccinated in the government system, those persons should have a choice of opting for a private health facility. Since it is a private facility so it will be a paid service, and our aim was to ensure that the price of vaccination remained affordable for all. It had to be a nominal amount.
How would you describe the past one year of dealing with the outbreak?
The past one year has been really tough but our scientists and medical fraternity has risen to the occasion and has ensured that we do not lose too many lives to this pandemic. At about 1.4%, India’s death rate has remained lower than the global average throughout. The country’s Corona warriors have done a commendable job in managing the pandemic, and the best part is that families of these warriors did not dissuade them from executing their professional duty, even at the risk of their own life. India’s vaccine journey is also successful and inspirational. I have said this before that year 2020 is the year of science.
What is the one thing that comes to your mind when looking back at 2020?
There are several things that we managed to achieve despite restrictions and limitations but the foremost is India’s vaccine journey that is both successful and inspirational. Two Covid-19 vaccines are already in use, and many more will get added in weeks to come in the series of vaccines that are in the pipeline. The effort has been for the good of not just India but the entire world as close to two dozen countries are already using vaccine supplies sent by us, and at least four dozen more countries have shown interest in the make in India vaccines. The vaccines are top of the line in quality and come at much lower price.
What lessons have been learnt?
There are a lot of learnings but most important is that we have to keep ourself future-ready to deal with such public health emergencies. This year’s budget has also focused on looking into the future and that is what we are going to aim at. From increasing manpower, to strengthening infectious disease surveillance by upgrading laboratories at the grass-root level, establishing mobile hospitals in remote and hard-to-reach areas, and having more health and wellness centres to promote preventive health care, there is a lot to be done in the coming months.