The Punjab government’s decision to sell government-procured Covaxin doses to private hospitals for profit has fulled a new political controversy in the state.
According to the reports, the Congress government in Punjab is accused of making a profit of Rs.660 per dose in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) by selling government procured vaccines to the private hospitals in the state. On top of it, the private hospital is making a profit of Rs.500 per shot as the customer pays Rs.1,560 for each jab.
Reportedly, the Punjab govt sold at least 20,000 vials of Covaxin to private hospitals in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) across the state at a rate of Rs.1,060 per dose. It was sold from a batch of one lakh vials procured by the govt at the rate of Rs 400 per dose, the rate fixed by Bharat Biotechfor state governments.
The state govt has justified the higher price charged from private hospitals by saying that they would have to pay that price if they had purchased the vaccine from the manufacturer directly. It may be noted that while the price of Covaxin for state governments is Rs 400, it is Rs 1200 for private hospitals. This means private hospitals save Rs 140 by purchasing from Punjab govt instead of the manufacturer.
“We have purchased it at a rate of ₹400 and are giving to the private hospitals at a rate which they would have paid had they bought it from the directly from the manufacturer. Private hospitals are depositing the money in the CSR Fund account created only to purchase vaccine,” said senior IAS officer Vikas Garg, who is the nodal officer for vaccine in Punjab.
The vaccines were purchased for the 18-44 age group by the state govt, and now the private hospitals are administering the doses to those who have booked slots for the vaccine.
The private hospitals that are buying from the government authorities are charging at least Rs.1,560 per shot from the people, making it not only costly for the common man but also creating artificial scarcity in the government vaccination centres where the doss would have been available for free.
Meanwhile, officials have said that the government has created a different bank account in the name of Vaccination CSR Fund and private hospitals deposit the money in this account only. The state authorities involved in the procurement of vaccine have claimed that the additional money collected from the private hospitals will be used to purchase more doses of the vaccine.
The decision of the Punjab government to sell the vaccines is seen as an attempt of the state government to make profits at a time when people are striving hard to get vaccination amidst a shortage of vaccine at the government-run centres.
Experts slam Punjab govt for profiteering in the times of pandemic
Several experts have criticised the decision and have asked how the state government can indulge in profiteering in the name of the CSR Fund when the country is suffering a health crisis.
“How can the state make money out of this? It’s shameful that when the state-run free vaccination centres had to be closed due to a vaccine shortage, govts are making profits. The justification that the fund will be used for procuring the vaccine is like using money collected by loot for the welfare of people,” said Dr Balbir Singh, an eye surgeon and health activist from Patiala, who is also a former state convener of the AAP.
Another individual from Jalandhar reportedly said she had no option but to pay Rs.1,560 for the jab at a private hospital as there is no availability of vaccines at the government centres.
“I was surprised to know that the state has sold these doses to private hospitals. If it was the state quota, why common people should pay for it,” she said.
Punjab making profits in donations for vaccine also
Apart from selling vaccines to private hospitals for profit, the Punjab government has also invited donations of vaccines for beneficiaries in the 18-44 age group. Under the scheme, vaccine donors can deposit money in a Vaccination Donation Account of the state government to sponsor the vaccination of others. And in this scheme too, the state govt is making a small profit.
The government procures Covaxin at the rate of Rs.400 per dose. However, the donor has to pay Rs.430 for a single dose of vaccine for an individual. Therefore, the government is making a profit of Rs.30 for each dose of vaccine through this scheme.
A report by Indian Express said that the govt is buying two doses of Covaxin at Rs 430, and giving one dose against a donation of the same amount. That would mean that the govt will be making a profit of Rs 430. But that seems unlikely, as Bharat Biotech has announced that the price for its Covid vaccine for state governments is Rs 400, therefore it may not possible for Punjab to buy two doses at Rs 430. There is no report that the company is selling the doses at the discounted rate of Rs 215 per dose to Punjab, and any such discount will be applicable to all the states.
Corporates can sponsor the vaccination of their employees, or anyone willing to pay for vaccination of others can donate Rs 430 per dose under this scheme. Govt has only included Covaxin in this scheme, as the gap between two doses in Covishield is longer and officials say it may be difficult to maintain records of the beneficiaries for such long periods.
This donation scheme essentially means that while the Punjab govt offers vaccines in the 18-44 age group for free, they are also selling the shots at Rs 430 per dose in the name of the donation scheme, and thereby making a profit.