In a recent tweet, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s official handle claimed that 220 crore people in India had been inoculated against coronavirus for free. Alongside a graphic, the BJP’s official Twitter handle wrote, “Did you ever think it was possible that 220 crore people would get vaccinated for free?”. The tweet was later deleted. (Archive)

Shortly afterwards, Union minister Kailash Choudhary, Rajsamand BJP MP Diya Kumari, former Uttarakhand chief minister and BJP leader Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Ballia BJP MP Virendra Singh, Darbhanga BJP MP Gopal Jee Thakur, former Bihar deputy chief minister and BJP MLA from Katihar Tarkishore Prasad, among others, promoted the same claim on Facebook.

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The following screen recording of Meta’s social monitoring tool CrowdTangle also shows that several BJP leaders, MLAs and ministers posted this claim on Facebook.

Fact Check

Upon first glance, the claim made by the BJP seems misleading. The first thing worth noting is that the population of India is not 220 crore. As per an Indian Express report dated April 20 quoting data from the UNFPA State of World Population Report 2023, India is set to become the most populous country in the world leaving China behind. According to the report, by the middle of this year, India’s population is estimated to reach 142.86 crore, which is slightly higher than China’s 142.57 crore population.

Where did the figure of 220 crore come from?

On checking the Indian government’s CoWin portal related to Covid vaccinations, Alt News found that the total number of vaccination doses is 220 crore. In other words, a total of 1,02,74,10,872 people have taken the first dose so far. Similarly, 95,19,77,979 people have taken the second dose, and 22,73,16,908 people have taken the booster/precaution dose. The figure comes from the sum total of these three figures, i.e. 2,20,67,05,759.

With some simple addition and subtraction, we can figure out how many people took the first Covid vaccine jab. It is obvious that those who took the second dose would have taken the first one. Furthermore, those who took the booster/precaution dose would have likely taken the second dose. Therefore, a sum total across these three categories hardly makes any sense. In this case those who have taken the booster/precaution dose are separated across three figures and those who have taken the second one are counted in two figures.

If we talk about the reach of the Covid vaccine, then according to these figures, it reached 102,74,10,872 people out of which 95,19,77,979 people took the second dose. Finally, this would mean the booster/precaution dose reached only 22,73,16,908 people.

False claim of free vaccine to all

The fifth page of the Guidance doc for COWIN 2.0 issued by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare clearly mentions that the vaccine would be provided free of charge at the government health facilities and will be on payment basis in private health facilities, at a rate as may be decided by the Indian government from time to time.

On February 27, 2021, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued a press release which clearly stated, “Private hospitals functioning as CVCs may recover a charge subject to a ceiling of Rs 250 per person per dose. This nationwide vaccination program is now to be exponentially expanded to the following age-groups from March 1, 2021:

  1. i) all citizens above 60 years of age and,
  2. ii) those within the age bracket of 45 to 59 years with specific co-morbodities

The office memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India to all the states and union territories on June 8, 2021, is available on the Kerala and Assam state governments’ websites. It is mentioned here that under the new guidelines of the National Covid Vaccination Program released on June 8, 2021, the cost of the vaccine dose for private hospitals would be declared by each vaccine manufacturer. Private hospitals would be able to charge a maximum of Rs 150 per dose as service charge. According to the memorandum, a maximum of Rs 780 could be charged by a private CVC (Covid Vaccination Centre) for the Covishield vaccine including GST and service charge, Rs 1410 for Covaxin, and Rs 1145 for the Sputnik V vaccine.

Changes have been introduced in these policies from time to time. On April 9, 2022, Adar Poonawala, CEO of the Serum Institute of India and Suchitra Ella, founder of Bharat Biotech, tweeted that the cost of the Covishield vaccine for a private hospital would be Rs 225 per dose, down from Rs 600 earlier, and the price of Covaxin had been reduced from Rs 1200 to Rs 225 per dose. The Union health ministry had announced that from April 10, 2022, booster/precaution doses of the Covid-19 vaccine would be available for everyone above 18 years of age at private vaccination centres. Since people still had to pay a fee for the vaccine at private vaccination centres, the BJP’s claim about the government providing free Covid vaccines to all is false.

To sum it up, the first dose of the Covid vaccine reached the highest number of people, around 103 crore, yet the BJP and its leaders misleadingly claimed that 220 crore people were given the Covid-19 vaccination. In reality, this figure of 220 crore is not the number of people inoculated, but of the number of total doses of the vaccine that were administered. This number includes people who were given the first dose, second dose as well as the booster/precaution dose. At the same time, the BJP made a false claim of providing free vaccines to all, even as vaccination policies were revised from time to time and private hospitals charged for administering vaccines.

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About the Author

Abhishek is a senior fact-checking journalist and researcher at Alt News. He has a keen interest in information verification and technology. He is always eager to learn new skills, explore new OSINT tools and techniques. Prior to joining Alt News, he worked in the field of content development and analysis with a major focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO).