On the eve of the scheduled opening of phase 3 of Covid-19 vaccinations covering the entire adult population of the country, the Centre said that only “some states” which have “co-ordinated” with vaccine makers on procuring from the open market, will begin the drive. It provided no details.
Some of India’s largest private hospitals were, however, gearing up for the vaccination, even if with limited doses.
Apollo Hospitals Group, Fortis Healthcare, and Max Healthcare said they would begin vaccinations for those between 18-44 years in select locations, as these facilities have managed to procure some doses of Covishield and Covaxin, the two vaccines that are currently available.
The hospital chains will provide Covaxin at Rs 1,200-1,250 per jab, and Covishield at around Rs 800-850 a shot, including the cost of administering the doses and GST.
Only private sites that are able to procure doses from the open market can vaccinate, and doses now with them for priority groups must be returned. Only a few private hospitals are expected to be able to vaccinate immediately.
Beneficiaries will have to register and book their appointments on the government’s Co-WIN platform. Not every facility will be providing both vaccines.
Eleven days ago, without consulting with states and with no clarity on stock volumes, the Centre had made a unilateral announcement on opening vaccinations for the 18-44 years age group on May 1.
Significant changes in the vaccine policy come into effect from Saturday: in order to vaccinate anyone, including those in the priority group of age 45 years or older, private hospitals will have to procure supplies directly from the open market.
It is also looking at providing the shots through its clinics in states like Rajasthan, according to Apollo Hospitals Group Executive Vice President Shobana Kamineni. The hospital will prioritise those above 45 years of age who are yet to receive their second dose.
“While we had to return the stocks of what the government had given us at…a subsidized price (Rs 150 per dose), there are people who have had their first shot and are waiting for the second. We cannot put them at risk, which is why we have taken a decision that, if they are willing to pay for these, they will be given priority for their second jab from our current stock,” Kamineni told The Indian Express.
Apollo initiated discussions with SII and Bharat Biotech, who make Covishield and Covaxin, in November, she said.
Fortis Healthcare will be providing only Covaxin for those above 18 years at its centres across North India from May 1.
Max Healthcare, which has procured Covishield, will be providing the vaccine “from select hospitals in the network” in Delhi NCR. The vaccines will be available at its facilities at Panchsheel Park, Patparganj, Shalimar Bagh, Rajinder Place (BLK-Max Hospital), Noida, and Vaishali.
Max Healthcare plans to “soon” roll out vaccination drives in local communities, corporates and Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), according to its Chairman and Managing Director, Dr Abhay Soi.
As supplies pick up, the three hospital groups plan to provide the jabs at their other facilities across the country.
The announcements by the large chains notwithstanding, many private vaccination centres are not expected to receive doses of the vaccine from Saturday – many have, in fact, received communication from manufacturers that orders will be delayed for months.
The Centre has, meanwhile, underlined that only those private sites that are able to procure doses from the open market can continue to vaccinate, and that the doses currently available for priority groups must be returned to government cold-chain points.
This could effectively mean that a large number of beneficiaries who have already received their first dose, will not be able to get the second dose at private vaccination sites due to delays in delivery of vaccines.
“We have already discussed with states and have guided them that all the free doses given to private vaccination centres should be accounted; at the same time, taking these additional (doses) they (state government centres) should run the vaccination sites. A clear direction has been issued,” Luv Aggarwal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, said on Friday.
“As per guidelines, those private centres which will procure (from the 50 per cent basket in the open market), can run the vaccination sites. According to my knowledge, subject to verification, as I am told, this is what it is; if the facts are different, we will get back to you,” Aggarwal said.
Asked how many states would be able to start vaccinations for the 18-44 group, the Centre could provide no clear response on Friday.
“On January 16, when the vaccination drive was launched there were limited centres; slowly they increased. In the same way, this drive too will slowly stabilise in coordination with private sector, states, and vaccine manufacturers… The states are coordinating with the manufacturers and in some states, it (phase 3) will be launched. Any new process will take time to stabilise and grow,” Aggarwal said.
Aggarwal insisted that the Centre was “providing required support” for phase 3.
“…Already states governments are coordinating with vaccine manufacturers. Government of India is also providing them the required support. Yesterday, we had a detailed video conference with all states… According to the guidance tool given to the states and the way we are handholding the states, we think that…this vaccination drive will start according to how we have designed it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Council of Ministers on Friday to discuss the situation arising out of the second wave. “The Council of Ministers meeting noted that the present pandemic crisis is a ‘once in a century crisis’ and has thrown a big challenge for the world,” the PMO said in a statement.
“PM Narendra Modi said that all arms of the Government are working unitedly & rapidly to deal with the situation. He also urged the Ministers to stay in touch with people of their respective regions, help them and keep getting their feedback. He stressed upon the need to ensure that issues at the local level are promptly identified and addressed,” the PMO statement said.