Is govt going back on vaccine policy by tapping into 25% jabs reserved for private hospitals?

The Minister of Health and Family Welfare Mansukh Mandaviya said the pace of vaccination across the country is amongst the fastest in the world. (Representative image)

The Minister of Health and Family Welfare Mansukh Mandaviya said the pace of vaccination across the country is amongst the fastest in the world. (Representative image)

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on August 4 said the government can tap into the 25 percent COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing capacity reserved for the private sector.

Mandaviya, while responding to queries on COVID vaccines by MPs in Parliament, has said it is not necessary now for vaccine manufacturers to keep 25 percent of vaccines for the private sector and only give that much as they (private hospitals) buy.

He said rest can be supplied to the government and private hospitals.

Mandaviya added that only 7-9 percent vaccine quota is being used by private hospitals.

Messages sent to Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech seeking comment on the health minister’s statement remain unanswered at the time of publishing the story.

Departure from 25% private allotment

Mandiviya’s statement is a departure from the new vaccination policy that became effective on June 21. According to the new policy, the Centre will directly procure 75 percent of doses from vaccine companies and distribute them among states to be administered free.

Private hospitals now have exclusive access to the remaining 25 percent, but they have to place orders for vaccines through state governments. COVID vaccines are priced at Rs 600 for Covishield and Rs 1,200 for Covaxin, excluding the Rs 150 charged as administration fee, by private hospitals.

The central government allowed private hospitals to participate in the COVID-19 vaccination drive with an intention to scale up vaccination.

Slow procurement & vaccination

But that isn’t going according to the plan.

Moneycontrol last month reported that private hospitals are under government scanner for slow pace of COVID-19 vaccine procurement.

The government on August 4 said it has provided 50.37 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccine to states and Union Territories. It said that more than 2.6 crore balance and unutilised doses are still available with states and UTs and private hospitals to be administered. India so far consumed 48.2 crore doses, including wastage.

Waiting for free jabs  

The current vaccination speed of 4 million isn’t enough for a full economic recovery, but blaming the private hospitals isn’t correct, says Dr Alok Roy, Chairman of Kolkata-based Medica Superspecialty Hospital.

“I am sitting on 5 lakh doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Kolkata; hardly any people, while the government vaccination centres are always crowded, and sometimes running out of supplies,” Roy said.

“People are preferring to wait and get free jabs instead of paying from their pockets. The government allowed this to enable vaccine manufacturers to make some money, but this isn’t working,” Roy added.

Roy who is also the chair of FICCI Health Services Committee, welcomed the government’s plan to buy the 25 percent quota allotted to the private sector, saying that the public should benefit. He said that with exception of a few corporates, many haven’t deployed their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds for COVID vaccination.

Lack of transparency

However, there is criticism that there was no data on the number of doses procured by the private hospitals. Top officials of the government are hinting that several private vaccination centres had not placed orders for the 25 percent earmarked for them.

Of the 47,979 sites conducting vaccination, as many as 2,485 are run by private hospitals and clinics.