October 22, 2020
Chennai: The BJP’s promise of free Covid vaccine in Bihar ahead of state elections, was followed by a “me too” announcement from Tamil Nadu. The criticism of the BJP move on social media and among opposition parties going full swing, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami said a vaccine will be distributed free of charge in his state as well.
“Once COVID-19 vaccine is ready, it will be provided to all people of the state free of cost,” announced the Chief Minister, whose state is due for election next year.
It is a crucial election for the ruling AIADMK, which is trying for a third term. For Mr Palaniswami, who became an accidental Chief Minister after his predecessor Jayalalithaa’s death, this is the first election as a Chief Ministerial candidate.
DMK Chief MK Stalin, who narrowly missed the top job in 2016, is trying hard to capture power after his party swept 2019 lok sabha polls. Party spokesperson A Saravanan said, “We will win the elections and it will be the DMK government that would give out the free Covid vaccine in Tamil Nadu next year”.
The BJP announcement — included in its manifesto for the Bihar polls — has become hugely controversial, with most opposition parties from the Congress to Aam Aadmi Party denouncing it.
Congress’s Rahul Gandhi was among the first to issue a jibe. “GOI just announced India’s Covid access strategy. Kindly refer to the state-wise election schedule to know when will you get it, along with a hoard of false promises,” his tweet read.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wondered if non-BJP voters would also get the free vaccine.
“What about non-BJP ruled states? Indians who didn’t vote BJP will not get free Covid vaccine?” he said.
No vaccine is in sight yet, though clinical trials of several are on abroad. On Sunday, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said two firms – the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech — are expected to begin late stage clinical trials of their vaccines after they receive approval.
A day before, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd and the Russian Direct Investment Fund said they have received fresh approval for clinical trials of the Russian vaccine.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked officials to be ready with a plan of action for when the vaccine is out and said the preparation should be as thorough as any election.
The access to the vaccine should be “speedy” for all members of the population. He also asked officials to test out the logistics, including cold storage, monitoring of clinics, and keep the supply of ancillary equipment, like syringes, ready.