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Citizens prefer to get Covid-19 vaccines for free, private hospitals return doses as they find no takers for paid vaccines

Private hospitals say that as the availability of free vaccines has increased from July, demand for Covid-19 vaccines in private hospitals has reduced significantly.

On October 21, India crossed the monumental milestone of 100 crore-mark in administering Covid-19 vaccines. The Indian healthcare system administered 100 crore doses of Covid-19 vaccine in less than 10 months, which should be a matter of pride for all Indians.

But the left-liberals are still not happy, who are never happy with any achievement of the country under the Modi government. They first started claiming that it is not a major achievement, as most Indians have only got one dose of the two-dose vaccines, and the share of fully vaccinated people is low.

They got another ammunition to attack the Modi govt after PM Modi addressed the nation on October 22 to talk about this monumental achievement. When the prime minister said that India administered 100 crore doses of Covid-19 for free, the left-liberals jumped to accuse him of lying by saying that they, or someone they know, had to pay for the vaccine as they chose to get the jab at private hospitals.  The Quint even published an article fact-checking PM Modi by telling him that not all 100 crore covid-19 jabs were given for free.

But these forever critics of the Modi govt fail to recognise that those who paid for the vaccine at private hospitals, did it on their own choice. Vaccines are available for free at the govt hospitals from the beginning, and people have the option of either getting the same at govt hospitals for free or at private hospitals against payments.

During the first phase of vaccination that started on January 16, healthcare and frontline workers in the fight against Covid-19 were given the shots for free. In the second phase, people above 60 years of age, and people over 45 with specified comorbidities were vaccinated for free by the govt, starting from March. A month later, everyone above 45 years was included for free vaccination by the central govt.

The third phase began on May 1, which also extended the vaccine eligibility to everyone above 18. By this time, non-NDA chief ministers like Uddhav Thackeray, Arvind Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee etc were demanding that the state govts also should be allowed to procure vaccines and vaccinate people in their states on their own.

There were also demands that private hospitals also should be allowed to vaccinate people who are willing to pay. In fact, some of the same people who are now saying that the entire 100 crore doses were not given for free, were demanding that rich people should be allowed to pay for vaccines, including the expensive imported Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The Modi govt had accepted the demand and decided that the central govt will procure 50% of the vaccines produced by Indian vaccine makers which will be used to vaccinate people above 45, while the rest 50% will be procured by state governments and private hospitals, where people aged between 18 to 45 years will be vaccinated, for free or against payment.

But this had proved to be a disaster, as the states were not able to procure enough vaccines, as the production of vaccines were limited, and the foreign manufacturers refused to sell the vaccine to provincial governments, due to high demand from all over the world. During this period, demand for vaccines had skyrocketed as the eligible population increased substantially due to the inclusion of the 18-45 age group.

Vaccine supplies to various states were erratic during this period, and in some places, some people did opt to get the vaccine at private hospitals, if it was available there and not in govt hospitals. But this was a temporary period, and the problem was largely caused by the demands of non-NDA parties and left-liberal activists who had demanded a ‘decentralised’ vaccination program.

After the states failed to run the decentralised vaccination program, the Modi govt reverted to centralised vaccination for the entire population above 18 from June 21, and since then the program has been running smoothly, achieving new milestones every few weeks. Expansion of production capacity by the manufacturers also helped.

The success of the centralised vaccination program, hated and criticised by the left-liberals, is proved by the fact that even though the private hospitals are allowed to procure upto 25% of the total vaccines produced, they are unable to find enough takers for it. In fact, outside the metropolitan cities, where the super-rich live, there is hardly any vaccination by private hospitals in the rest of the country.

According to a report by The Hindu in August, private hospitals had procured less than 10% of vaccines, against the eligible 25%. Most of them were in states with high per capita income, and the share was less than 5% in most of the states. As the vaccinations in government hospitals grew in recent months, the procurement by private hospitals has come down even further.

Unable to clear the stock of already procured vaccines before their expiry dates, the private hospitals are selling them to other hospitals at the purchase price, and waiving the service fee that they charge apart from the specified price. Many hospitals have stopped charging the allowed Rs 150 service fee and charging only the price, because there are not enough people coming to get the Covid-19 vaccine to them as they can get them without cost at govt hospitals. Now people can even walk in to a govt vaccination centre, without booking an appointment on the CoWIN platform.

In fact, a Moneycontrol report last month claimed that the government’s free vaccination drive has killed the Covid-19 vaccine market for private hospitals. It said that many hospitals are returning vaccines to state governments as there are no takers for them, while others were offering discounts upto 20% to clear their stocks.

The private hospitals admitted that as the availability of free vaccines have increased from July after the central govt took the responsibility of vaccinating everyone above 18, demand for Covid-19 vaccines in private hospitals has reduced significantly.

Even though the exact share of private hospitals in India’s Covid-19 vaccination program is not available in the public domain at present, according to information provided by the union health ministry last month, only around 6% of the vaccine doses were administered by the private hospitals since May 1.

Yesterday the ministry informed that over 105.78 crore vaccine doses have been provided to States and union territories. This means, even if there was no vaccination by the private hospitals, India’s vaccination would have still crossed the 1 billion mark at the around same time.

This shows that after some hiccups in May when the vaccines were made available for everyone above 18, free vaccination by the central government has been an immense success. Despite private hospitals allowed to procure upto 25% of the doses produced in India, they have not been able to lift even half of that share. And in recent months, they are having to return their stocks or offer them at a discount because free vaccines are available everywhere.

 

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Raju Das
Corporate Dropout, Freelance Translator

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