Updated: February 25, 2021 7:43:18 am
THE CENTRE said on Wednesday that the second phase of the Covid-19 vaccination drive will begin from March 1 — for all citizens above 60 years of age and those over 45 years with comorbidities.
While the vaccine will be available for free at the 10,000-odd government healthcare facilities, the beneficiaries will have to pay at the estimated 20,000 private facilities that are expected to be roped in.
Announcing the Cabinet decision, Union Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said: “The cost of vaccination in the private sector will be announced by the Union Health Ministry in the next two-three days. We are in discussions with the private hospitals.”
“We began the Covid-19 vaccination drive on January 16. We have so far administered 1.07 crore doses. We are one of the fastest countries to achieve this feat. We also reported very few serious adverse events. Also, 14 lakh beneficiaries have already received the second dose. The healthcare and frontline workers were vaccinated free of cost. The government has decided that the next phase will begin from March 1,” Javadekar said.
Javadekar said the population of those above 60 years of age is estimated at over 10 crore.
Earlier, the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 had said that the combined population of those over 50 years and those less than 50 years with comorbidities is about 27 crore.
Of the about 10,000 hospitals that were roped in for the first phase of the vaccination drive — for healthcare and frontline workers — only about 2,000 were private facilities. However, the private sector will play a larger role in the next phase.
Government sources told The Indian Express that about 12,000 private hospitals empanelled under Ayushman Bharat as well as large hospital chains which are not part of the flagship scheme will actively participate in the vaccination drive.
The announcement of the second phase comes in the backdrop of a surge in cases being reported in several states. The Union Health Ministry said on Wednesday that high-level multi-disciplinary teams have been sent to Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Jammu and Kashmir.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan has also asked Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir to increase RT-PCR testing. All “positive persons must be promptly isolated/ hospitalised, all their close contacts be traced and also tested without delay,” he has said.
The decision to vaccinate the next priority group free of cost at government facilities follows the Union Budget announcement that Rs 35,000 crore had been set aside for Covid-19 vaccination. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had underlined that the Centre is “committed to provide further funds if required”.
As of February 24, according to the Health Ministry, the vaccination coverage stood at 1,23,66,633. This includes 65,24,726 healthcare workers (1st dose), 14,81,754 healthcare workers (2nd dose), and 43,60,153 frontline workers (1st dose).
While the government is yet to announce the cost of vaccination in private facilities, Wipro founder Azim Premji had earlier estimated it at around Rs 800 for a two dose-regime per beneficiary.
Urging the government to involve the private sector in large numbers to achieve a coverage of 500 million within 60 days, he had said: “There is a possibility that we can get the Serum Institute to supply vaccines at about Rs 300 per shot; hospitals, private nursing homes can administer this at a cost of Rs 100 per shot. So with Rs 400 rupees per shot, it is possible to do mass vaccination of the population.
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