Mamata Banerjee on Saturday announced free COVID-19 vaccines for all the citizens of West Bengal in an open letter to the healthcare workers and police officials in the state.
The West Bengal Chief Minister’s announcement came on the same day the central government declared that the vaccination drive in the country would begin on January 16, Saturday.
Thanking the frontline workers for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic, Banerjee in her letter said, “I’m extremely delighted to announce that our government is working to arrange free vaccines for everyone in this state.”
However, her decision was followed by political reactions soon after. Many in the opposition camps raised eyebrows if the declaration was a dole to the Bengali citizens ahead of the much-talked-about State Assembly election later this year.
The question of budgetary has also come up as experts estimated a burden of around Rs 5,000 crore on the state’s cash-strapped treasury for free vaccination drive of 10 crore citizens in Bengal.
But the Mamata Banerjee-led administration is confident of accomplishing the target, reported Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika.
The government asserted that all of people would not be vaccinated at one go and since it would be a time-taking method, the financial load would be manageable.
The Bengal government has also refuted the claim that free vaccination drive was announced keeping in mind the election. It said that the decision was already taken erstwhile and that the administration was waiting for the Centre to initiate vaccination.
In a tweet on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “On 16th January, India takes a landmark step forward in fighting COVID-19. Starting that day, India’s nation-wide vaccination drive begins. Priority will be given to our brave doctors, healthcare workers, frontline workers including Safai Karamcharis.”
Modi chaired a high-level meeting to review the status of COVID-19 in the country along with the preparedness of the State/UTs for COVID vaccination. The meeting was attended by Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary to PM, Health Secretary, and other senior officials concerned.
The Prime Minister took a detailed and comprehensive review of the status of COVID management covering various issues. Emergency Use Authorisation or Accelerated Approval has been granted by the National Regulator for two vaccines (Covishield and Covaxin) which have established safety and immunogenicity.
The roll-out of COVID-19 vaccine will provide priority to the healthcare workers and the frontline workers who are estimated to be around 3 crores followed by those above 50 years of age and the under-50 population groups with co-morbidities numbering around 27 crores.