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Back to square one? State govts’ global tenders for vaccine find no bids, now they want the Centre to buy vaccines for them

International manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna have told state governments flat that they will only deal with national governments directly. Moreover, as there is a global supply crunch, many states now want the centre to buy vaccines for them.

Earlier in April 2021, after the state governments constantly demanded liberalised vaccine policy and a greater say in vaccine procurement, the central government complied and empowered states to procure the vaccines directly from the manufacturers. However, now it seems that states are finding it incredibly difficult to procure vaccines on their own.

Several states across the country have reported that their bids to procure COVID-19 vaccines have elicited no response from the vaccine manufacturers. This has inevitably led them to demand the centre to procure the vaccines on their behalf and distribute it among the states. Back to square one.

Odisha Health Minister Naba Kishore Das today wrote a letter to the Union Health Minister, highlighting non response from the vaccine manufacturers to the global tenders floated by the Odisha government. He has urged the Centre for the procurement of global vaccines at the national level, rather than asking individual states to procure vaccines to inoculate their population.

In his letter, Das pointed out that global vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer & Moderna are concerned about indemnity-related issues & are willing to deal with only federal-level government at this stage, adding that they’ll require Centre-level statutory clearances for supplying to States.

“Since the above are in the domain of the union government, it might be faster and economical if the procurement of global vaccines is made at the country-level rather than by the individual states,” the letter further added.

Odisha Health Minister stated that domestic vaccine giants Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech even refused to participate in pre-bid meeting.

However, the Odisha health minister proposed that states be given the flexibility to design and decide on the distribution of vaccines taking local factors into consideration.

Odisha is the not the only state that is facing trouble receiving bids for its global tenders. There are several states who have floated tenders for vaccines but have so far garnered no response from the vaccine manufacturers.

Uttar Pradesh government extends deadline after it received no bids to its global tenders for vaccine procurement

Earlier today, Uttar Pradesh also failed to get any response from international vaccine manufacturer to its global tender floated to procure over 4 crore vaccines in the next six months. After it received no response from the vaccine manufacturers, the Uttar Pradesh government was forced to extend the last date for the opening of technical bids to 10 June, a report published in The Print said.

Suffering from a shortage of vaccine, the Yogi Adityanath government’s State Medical Supplies Corporation Limited had floated global tenders on 5 May to procure vaccines directly from global manufacturers. It had originally planned to open the technical bids on 21 May, which was first extended to 31 May and now to 10 June.

Delhi government’s global tender on vaccine procurement receives a lukewarm response from vaccine manufacturers

Earlier last month, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal lamented that Pfizer and Moderna had told his government that they don’t deal with state governments individually and will sell the COVID-19 vaccines directly to the central government. He urged the central government to procure Pfizer vaccines immediately to stop the spread of the virus. From being an ardent supporter of decentralisation of vaccine procurement, Kejriwal took an about-turn and urged the central government to intervene and procure on behalf of the states.

It is worth noting that Kejriwal is pushing the centre to purchase Pfizer’s vaccine, which is untested in India. Importantly, Pfizer is yet to conduct any efficacy trials for its vaccine in India, even as it seeks an indemnity clause for its vaccine.

Moderna turns down Punjab government’s request for vaccine procurement

Similarly, the Punjab government’s efforts to procure vaccines for its population hit a snag when Moderna passed up the government’s request for vaccine procurement, saying it does not supply directly to states. After Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh directed officials on May 20 to float global tenders, the government had written to the manufacturers of the Pfizer, Moderna, Sputnik V, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. However, it did not receive an encouraging response as Moderna turned down its request and said that it only deals with national governments.

Jharkhand CM demands centre to procure and distribute free vaccines for his state

Most recently, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren pulled an Arvind Kejriwal-kind of U-turn when he demanded the centre to provide free vaccines for all beneficiaries in the 18-45 age group. This comes after Soren had pompously announced that his government would provide free vaccines to everyone above the age of 18 years. In April, Soren had tweeted that his government will vaccinate everyone in the 18+ age group free of cost.

However, with the shortage in vaccines and state governments eliciting no response from the vaccine manufacturer, Soren imitated Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, who has been asking for the centralisation of the vaccination program after advocating decentralization. Soren cited the state’s incapability to procure vaccines owing to resource crunch after announcing free vaccines for everyone in the 18+ age group back in April. He said that the exorbitant pricing to vaccinate 1 crore 57 lakh beneficiaries in the age group of 18 to 44 years would lead to a burden of 1,100 crores on the state exchequer.

Maharashtra receives no bids for its global tender on vaccines

Maharashtra’s efforts to tide over the COVID-19 crisis with external vaccine procurement got no response as none of the vaccine manufacturers responded to the global tenders floated by the government. As of May 25, the state had not received any response from the vaccine manufacturer. However, the tender floated by the Municipal Corporation body of Mumbai did reportedly attract 8 bids, but none of them was from manufacturers.

From demanding a greater say in vaccine procurement, States pass the buck on the Centre for procuring vaccines

It is worth noting that at the start of the ferocious second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, several states, most notably Delhi, Maharashtra and many opposition-ruled states had assailed the central government for its centralised vaccine policies. They had demanded the Centre to relax its vaccine policy and empower states in vaccine procurement. The central government had eventually obliged and granted states the power to directly procure vaccines for their population from the manufacturers. In the new directive issued by the central government, states were to source 50% of the vaccines, while the centre will supply the rest.

The states had also demanded the Modi government to extend the vaccination to the age group between 18 to 45. Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government was at the forefront of this demand, exhorting the centre to authorise vaccination for everyone above the age of 18, in a bid to stop the inexorable spread of the virus. More than a month later, Maharashtra is among those states that have temporarily halted the vaccination of its population belonging to the age group of 18 to 45.

The Modi government had earlier held back the vaccination of people in the age group of 18 to 45 because of the supply constraints of COVID-19 vaccines. However, as the cases continued to surge, the state government tried to push the blame of their incompetence in stemming the spread of the virus on the central government, criticising it on its vaccine policy.

Now, as the coronavirus cases show a decline, the state governments are using this opportunity to once again attack the central government and abdicate themselves of the responsibility of vaccinating their own people. With the discontent among people brewing due to the unavailability of the vaccines, the state governments have deftly pivoted from their previously held stance and asked the central government to procure vaccines on their behalf and extricate them from their predicament.

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Jinit Jain
Engineer. Writer. Learner.

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