Covid vaccine allocation to states may be negatively affected by high wastage rates, the government said Tuesday as part of its revised guidelines for the national vaccination drive.
The guidelines said the government – which has re-taken control of the vaccination drive – will procure 75 per cent of vaccines produced in India and distribute them to states “based on criteria such as population, disease burden and progress of vaccination”.
“Wastage of vaccine will affect the allocation negatively,” the guidelines said.
The warning is likely to be viewed unfavourably by the states (and people whose vaccination chances may now depend on their government’s efficiency) – particularly those already accused of wasting doses in the centre-states tug-of-war over supply of vaccines and slow pace of vaccinations.
Last month Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were accused of wasting around 37 and 30 per cent of supplied doses. BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh was accused of wasting 11 per cent of doses. All three hit back; they said the data was faulty and actual wastage was only around five per cent.
The guidelines also stated that while vaccines will be provided free of cost to all people, private hospitals could buy the remaining 25 per cent to inoculate those willing to pay for their doses.
Allowing private hospitals access to a quarter of the country’s supply is meant to “incentivise production by vaccine manufacturers”, the government said, adding that states/UTs would have to be responsible for dividing available doses between hospitals across their territories.
Prices at which hospitals can buy the vaccines “would be declared by each manufacturer” the government added. Currently Covaxin costs Rs 1,200 per dose for hospitals and Covishield Rs 600.
The centre buys the same vaccines at Rs 150 per dose.
These guidelines come a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government was taking back control of the vaccination drive – a little over a month after it was opened to states.
The government has been heavily criticised for its vaccination policy, particularly after it was “liberalised” starting May 1; this meant states and private hospitals had to compete amongst each other to buy from limited domestic stocks at much higher prices than the government was paying.
In the government’s defence, Prime Minister Modi on Monday pointed out that states had called for decentralising of the vaccine drive. The government earlier clarified that vaccines supplied by it would be free, but it said nothing about states and private hospitals having to pay much more.
The earlier policy saw free vaccines for healthcare/frontline workers and the 45+ age group, but left large sections of the 18-44 age group having to pay for their shots. This, in some cases, was around Rs 1,500 per dose, triggering protests and inviting questions from the Supreme Court.
Last month the court flagged “various flaws” in the vaccination policy, which it called “arbitrary and irrational“. It also asked why states had to pay more for the vaccines than the government, and demanded a report comparing foreign prices of domestically available vaccines.
The government has been given two weeks to file a response on this and several other questions, with the next hearing on this subject scheduled for June 30.
The government plans to vaccinate “all eligible people” – around 108 crore – by the end of the year. As of this morning, around 23.6 crore doses have been administered.