Over 500 prominent public health practitioners, doctors, economists, workers’ unions and human rights groups have appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccines reach the vulnerable and urged him to ramp up manufacturing to address shortages.
The letter signed by organisations from 22 states and Union territories has asked Modi to “remove barriers” to vaccine production through modes like a waiver of intellectual property rights to achieve universal coverage.
“We call on you to take action to ensure a peoples’ vaccine. For this to happen, a detailed, time-bound and transparent COVID-19 vaccine policy and action plan should be arrived at in consultation with the states and India’s experts and citizens at large and ensure transparency in contractual agreements reached by the government with the pharma sector,” the letter said.
They urged the government to ensure that the vaccine is purchased at true cost prices and provided free of charge to all, its fair allocation which prioritises at-risk groups, is sensitive to the existence of the digital divide and is able to reach the vulnerable where they are.
They also asked for large-scale vaccine procurement by the central government at regulated prices which does not cripple the finances of India’s states or pit them against each other in the quest for scarce lifesaving vaccines. “Immediately enhance financial outlays to public health and do what it takes to make the above happen through all possible steps, including compulsory licensing of vaccines and ramping up public sector vaccine manufacturing capacity, to strengthen the public health system to be better prepared for the potential next wave of the pandemic,” they said.
The organisations that signed the letter included Oxfam and Forum for Medical Ethics Society, while economists Jean Dreze and Jayati Ghosh were among the citizens who made the appeal.