“If the government were to engage private industry quickly, we can be sure of achieving coverage of 500 million people within 60 days. That’s a practicality. I think it is very important the government considers this as a major supplementation to the effort,” he told finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman at a closed-door post-budget discussion organised by the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce on Sunday.
Recognising the government’s efforts in the vaccination drive, Premji suggested that if there is a possibility of Serum Institute of India (SII) providing the vaccine at about Rs 300 a shot to hospitals and private nursing homes, they can then administer the jab to people at Rs 100 a shot. “So, within Rs 400 a shot, it is possible to do mass vaccination of the population,” he said.
Premji joined other industry leaders, including Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra, in making a strong pitch for proactive participation of the private sector to bolster vaccination efforts. India has administered over 1 crore doses of the vaccine as of Saturday.
Industry lobby groups, such as CII, too have advocated “full involvement” of the corporate sector in the vaccination drive, apart from allowing private providers in the space.
The government has decided to bear the burden of vaccinating large chunks of the population with Sitharaman earmarking Rs 35,000 crore in the budget for the purpose, with the promise to provide more, if required.
The allocation is expected to help vaccinate nearly 50 crore Indians, with the government estimating the cost at Rs 700 per individual, including the cost of the vaccine and other costs.
Although the private sector is pitching hard, the government believes that it is not the best way to deal with the exercise, arguing that emergency use of the vaccines has to be carefully controlled, while also keeping a close watch on supplies.
Government officials have argued that like most countries, India has a defined public health requirement that currently focuses on health and frontline workers after from those who are seen to be more vulnerable – those over 50 years or the younger segment with co-morbidities. Despite the pressure, the government has been unrelenting.
During Sunday’s interaction, Sitharaman said the country has doubled its efforts to foster R&D in vaccine development and while the government should play the role of a facilitator, the private sector will be the growth driver of the economy.
She said the country has sent a clear message in vaccine development, research, scaling up production depending on demand which is now expanding by the minute. “This shows what India can contribute when the private sector, with support from the government, addresses lifesaving intervention,” Sitharaman added.