As has been rightly pointed out in the article “Privatisation of Covid vaccination is Anti-People,” India’s new vaccine policy is designed not for the welfare of the people but for the profit of private vaccine producers and private hospitals. India is one of the handful of countries where people have to buy a vaccine. What is worse is that we have among the costliest vaccines in the world. The article estimated that a family of five would have to pay Rs. 15,000 to get their two vaccine doses from a private hospital. How many families in India can afford this exorbitant price?
Moreover, should there be a price for vaccines at all? We must not forget that most of the research that goes into manufacturing vaccines or drugs is publicly funded. In the case of Covaxin, the vaccine was developed largely by the Indian Council of Medical Research, which is funded by the government. As the article mentions, the government could have licensed the production of the vaccine to any or all of the seven public sector vaccine producers in the country. But not only has the government given up its duty to protect its citizens, it has actively worsened the situation. It chose to give the patent to a private company that is now making astronomical profits.
Pharmaceutical companies everywhere are simply using publicly funded research and selling it back to the people, and the state is serving the companies’ interests. The state is in effect demanding that we pay ten times more for something we have already paid for.
Successive governments are responsible for the current crisis: they have long underfunded the public healthcare system in order to push for its privatisation. The evidence is unmistakable today. Hospitals are few, understaffed, and lacking in essential facilities. Where there are beds, there are not enough ventilators; where there are ventilators, there is not enough skilled staff employed to run them. Doctors, nurses, ASHA, ANM, and sanitation workers are overworked and they rarely receive their already meagre salaries and stipends on time; they have to fight even for the provision of masks and PPE kits. Over the years, governments have rapidly privatised the healthcare sector and diluted any legal protections that the working-class people had fought to achieve. This has ensured that the poor remain the worst-affected.
Can we trust such a state that has hurtled us into this mess and continues to worsen our suffering? Why should a handful of capitalists—the minority ruling class—decide who gets the vaccine and at what cost?
When HIV/AIDS had emerged decades ago, it was only through people’s struggles that pharma companies eventually decreased the drug prices and made them accessible to more people.
We too must fight again. We cannot let the minority bourgeoisie continue to rule the world and make profit off our lives and health. Our struggle must be to ensure free vaccines, free healthcare, and to snatch power from the capitalists and the governments that serve them!