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Karnataka government in talks with vaccine companies, but undecided if it will be given free


Bengaluru: The state government, which has been holding preliminary discussions with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers on procurement and distribution, is yet to take a call on the most contentious issue of whether it is going to provide it free of cost to citizens or charge for it.

“It is too premature to say if the government will stipulate a price for the vaccine or distribute it free of cost. Chief minister BS Yediyurappa will discuss the matter with the Centre and then decide,” health and medical education minister K Sudhakar said.

However, he assured that Karnataka will be among the first few states to procure and administer the vaccine to people. “I can only say that in the past we have distributed all vaccines for lethal diseases free of cost. This time around too, the government will take care of people,” he said.

He spoke to reporters after a meeting with Gagan Singh Bedi, managing director (India) of AstraZeneca, the pharma giant that is developing Covid vaccine in collaboration with the University of Oxford.

The BJP’s promise in its election manifesto of providing the vaccine free of charge to people in Bihar if they vote the party back to power has put other BJP regimes, including the one in Karnataka, in a tight spot. The state’s BJP ministers are finding themselves in an unenviable situation, and are clueless about how to wriggle out if confronted with queries as to when the government will make an announcement about the free vaccine distribution.

The Bihar promise has caused a split among the BJP and Opposition-ruled states, triggering similar demands from other states. The ruling Shiv Sena in the neighbouring Maharashtra has already used harsh words to slam the ruling BJP, saying other states are not in Pakistan to be treated differently. Tamil Nadu and Puducherry administrations have assured free vaccine to all irrespective of the financial assistance from the Centre, while the Madhya Pradesh chief minister has announced free vaccine to the poor.

Karnataka, minister Sudhakar said, has been in talks with pharma companies on procuring potential vaccines as and when they are ready and get the Centre’s approval. “We have also contacted Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech,” he said.

The state government, he said, is also forming a committee of experts to guide the process of distribution and administering of the vaccine. “We will also bring on board a technology partner and logistic partner and take the assistance of the Centre for the smooth distribution of vaccines. Our first target group is Covid warriors followed by those with existing health vulnerabilities,” the minister said.

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