Covaxin and Covishield boosters will be available to private hospitals at Rs 225 per dose under revised and lowered prices announced by vaccine makers on Saturday, a day before the booster campaign opens to people between 18 and 60 years.
In independent announcements, Bharat Biotech said it would lower Covaxin’s price from Rs 1,200 to Rs 225 per dose and Serum Institute of India said it would lower Covishield’s price from Rs 600 to Rs 225 per dose.
Private hospitals administering the jabs may charge a service fee of up to Rs 150 per dose, the Union health ministry said on Saturday in a note sent to all states outlining guidelines for the expanded booster, or so-called precaution dose, campaign.
All people between 18 and 60 years — over 760 million — who have completed 273 days after their second dose will be eligible for boosters from Sunday. People 60 years or older and healthcare and frontline workers have received boosters since January this year and will continue to be offered free boosters in government centres.
The health ministry said eligible citizens might book appointments for the booster doses through Co-WIN or choose the “walk-in” vaccination option.
In the walk-in option, staff at the private vaccination centre would need to locate the existing vaccination record of the recipient using the registered mobile phone number, verify the identity, and administer the booster.
Sections of vaccine experts view the decision to open the booster campaign to all adults in India as a precautionary measure with no evidence yet of its public health benefits, although boosters are expected to enhance antibody levels in recipients.
However, health rights activists say the decision to make available boosters only through the private sector introduces an equity issue in the country’s vaccination campaign that has until now offered free vaccines at government centres.
“If there is any medical benefit — even an incremental benefit — from boosters, they should ideally be available through government centres for those who can’t afford to pay,” said Leena Menghaney, a public health lawyer engaged in issues relating to access to medicines and vaccines.
But a vaccine expert advising the Centre said the issue of equity comes up when a vaccine has proven public health benefits and there is evidence that everyone should receive the vaccine.
Bharat Biotech, in a statement on Saturday, said the company had over 50 million doses of Covaxin readily available in vials and could supply over 200 million additional doses if demand emerges.
The company has asked private hospitals to provide Covaxin at revised rates from April 10 and any price differential with existing stocks with them will be compensated through additional doses.
The Congress on Saturday condemned the decision to privatise the booster dose as anti-poor and a cruel move to create class divisions in fighting the pandemic.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: “Even if a needy person wants the booster dose in his village, he won’t get it.” He described the government’s decision as “brutal and barbaric”.