Price cap cloud on off-site Covid vaccination centres
The capping of Covid vaccination price announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will affect off-site inoculation plans, several private hospitals in Calcutta said on Tuesday.
Some big private hospitals and smaller nursing homes said Modi's announcement that the Centre would procure doses for the states was welcome. But clarity is awaited on the private healthcare units, many of which have been unable to procure vaccines since May 1.
The Prime Minister announced on Monday that from June 21, the central government would provide free vaccines to all states for the “18-plus-year-old people”. Private hospitals, he said, can add a service charge of up to Rs 150 over the procurement price of each dose.
Most private hospitals in Calcutta are charging Rs 200 to Rs 300 over the procurement price. To conduct off-site vaccination, such as in offices and housing complexes, the hospitals are charging even more because of the additional cost involved.
Most private hospitals are conducting off-site vaccination programmes in collaboration with corporate houses, government offices and residential complexes.
“The Rs-150 cap will slow down the vaccination process, especially off-site programmes, because those will not be viable anymore,” said Alok Roy, the chairman of Medica Superspecialty Hospital.
The hospital group is conducting off-site vaccination for about 5,000 people every day, said Roy.
The AMRI Hospitals group, which is administering more than 5,000 doses at off-site camps, will ask the organisations and associations that are tying up with them to arrange for some of the logistics such as vehicles for doctors and nurses. The group will also ask for a one-time fee for logistics.
“We have to hire doctors and nurses from outside agencies for off-site camps. There is a large cost involved in providing logistics like vehicles, refrigerators and other equipment,” said Rupak Barua, the group CEO of AMRI.
“If the organisations that are interested in tying up with our group don’t agree to pay, we will ask them to tell their employees or members to get vaccinated at our hospitals,” said Barua, who is also president of the Association of Hospitals of Eastern India.
The association of private hospitals, he said, will soon meet to decide on how to go about vaccination following the announcement of the cap.
Woodlands Hospital is charging Rs 250 to Rs 300 for each dose administered at the hospital. For off-site vaccination, the hospital is charging around Rs 500.
“I will appeal to the Centre to give us the doses for free so that we charge Rs 250 to Rs 300 or lift the cap of Rs 150,” said Rupali Basu, the managing director and CEO of Woodlands.
“The service charges had been calculated keeping in mind the cost incurred on doctors, nurses, operations employees and PPE, as well as other logistical expenses,” said Basu.
Woodlands, she said, will ask the corporate houses to bear some of the logistical costs if the capping is not increased. “If they don’t agree to bear the cost, we will ask them to come to our hospital and get vaccinated,” said Basu.
The hospital is vaccinating 2,500 to 3,000 people every day. It has vaccinated employees of 60 companies so far.
Officials of various hospitals said off-site vaccination helped them reach out to a larger section of the population than the on-site drive. Also, it is convenient for recipients because they don’t have to travel to hospitals amid the raging pandemic.
Another reason off-site camps are needed is that space constraints come in the way of scaling up vaccination at most hospitals.
Some private hospitals and nursing homes in district towns also want the government's procurement policy to be changed further.
The central government will now directly buy 75 per cent of the doses from the manufacturers and distribute them among the states.
“We want the Centre to procure the doses and distribute them to small private healthcare units like ours through the respective state governments. Otherwise, we will not be able to procure doses,” said Sk Alhajuddin, the chairman of the Progressive Nursing Homes and Hospitals Association.
The Sun Hospital in Burdwan, which Alhajuddin runs, has been communicating with the Serum Institute of India since May 1 to buy Covishield doses. The Pune-based manufacturer recently informed the hospital that it would not be able to supply the doses and asked the health-care unit to wait till July or August.
“The hospitals that have already placed orders and made payment are not getting supplies in time. The manufacturers had promised to deliver the doses within a week of the payment but consignments are coming after more than two weeks,” said Barua of AMRI.
In the midst of the vaccine crisis, a soft launch of the Russian vaccine for Covid, Sputnik V, was held at the RN Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences. Only a limited number of healthcare volunteers were given the vaccine, said an official of the hospital.
“A commercial launch is expected by the end of June,” said the official.