The government of India’s refusal to bear the cost of universal, free COVID-19 vaccination has led to severe vaccine inequity in the country and has also posed a serious threat to recovery from one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world. India is the only one among the top ten countries worst-affected by COVID-19 not to ensure free vaccinations to all citizens.
The United States and Brazil have both officially recorded more COVID-19 deaths than India as of 23 May. The US federal government has been providing free vaccination to all people living in the country, regardless of their immigration or health insurance status. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the national public-health agency of the country—has stated that a vaccination centre cannot charge a person any fee related to vaccination. Instead, such fees are deducted directly from the person’s health insurance or charged to welfare programmes that support the uninsured. Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil who downplayed the COVID-19 as “a little flu” in the early days of the pandemic, announced in December that his government would offer the vaccine to all, free of charge.
The United Kingdom is providing the COVID-19 vaccination free of cost and only through the National Health Service, its publicly funded healthcare system. The three countries in the European Union—Italy, France and Germany—that are among the ten countries with the highest recorded COVID-19 deaths have all offered vaccination for free, mostly by deducting costs from health-insurance schemes. Russia announced in November that it would give its Sputnik V vaccine free to citizens, Mexico announced a free universal COVID-19 vaccination programme in December and Colombia allowed private players to import vaccines but insisted that shots be given for free.