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No cess on Covid-19 vaccination; but rich may be charged

By Shrimi Choudhary & Indivjal Dhasmana
November 05, 2020 13:43 IST
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There was speculation that a one-time special Covid-19 cess would be imposed and that it would raise an estimated Rs 18,000 crore. Currently three vaccines - Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D and Oxford’s Covishield - are under the human clinical trials.

The finance ministry has ruled out a cess for raising funds for the expenditure on vaccination against Covid-19, but is not averse to charging the upper-middle to ultra-rich sections of society for it.

On making it a payable service, the ministry will go by the health ministry’s viewpoint, said a key finance ministry official.

 

“I would say you and I should pay when it comes to us. But that is for the health ministry to decide; we will go by what it says. If it asks us to make it free, we will do that,” the official said.

There was speculation that a one-time special Covid-19 cess would be imposed and that it would raise an estimated Rs 18,000 crore.

“We are committed to inject any amount of funds required for vaccination.  So, funds are not an issue at all.

"The bigger challenge is to provide vaccination to the 1.36 billion population,” said the official.

Sources in the government said that all the ministries concerned are working closely on building cold-chain logistics to distribute vaccines across India, particularly to the vulnerable sections of society.

“Procurement and distribution are key elements of vaccination and perhaps the most challenging areas that need to be tackled,” said a government source.

Besides, there are deliberations on training the workforce and how to roll out the vaccine digitally so that it reaches people in a short period of time.

The health ministry, the nodal ministry for the vaccination, is learnt to be in the process of creating a digital platform to help monitor the vaccine supply chain, the delivery system and a beneficiary enrolment system.

There are several estimations around the all-in-cost of the vaccination.

The government has, at multiple forums, assured that plenty of funds will be available for the vaccine and these will be spent in a staggered manner.

According to an initial estimate, the entire vaccination programme may cost the government Rs 50,000 crore to Rs 80,000 crore.

However, the final amount would depend on the kind of vaccination and whether it would require one or two doses, among other things.

Currently three vaccines - Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D and Oxford’s Covishield - are under the human clinical trials.

Central government officials, including the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), are deliberating on an effective Covid-19 vaccine distribution system.

The government is also taking stock of the states’ case trajectory, testing numbers and case fatality rate.

Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

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Shrimi Choudhary & Indivjal Dhasmana in New Delhi
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