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Private hospitals sitting on 10M unused COVID vax doses

Amid dwindling demand and an impending decision on Covid booster shots, private hospitals have started to liquidate their vaccine stock nearing expiry by giving free jabs to citizens. Private hospitals are sitting on 10 million unused doses, of which 15-20 per cent will expire next month, said Girdhar Gyani, director-general of the Association of Healthcare Providers (India).

With around 2 million Covid vaccine doses likely to get wasted in December, leading hospital chains have now started to give it gratis to citizens. Some hospitals, however, say they will review the situation in the middle of January.

Apart from private hospitals, states and Union Territories have 219 million unused doses available with them as on November 23, which were distributed by the Centre. This is roughly one-month’s inventory, going by the current rate of vaccination.

Private hospitals had gone slow on ordering vaccines since the demand for paid vaccines went down, and have been focusing instead on liquidating available stock.

India’s second-largest private hospital chain Manipal Group said it plans to review the situation mid-January. “We do not anticipate an issue with our vaccine stock, given the expiry period available,” said Dilip Jose, managing director (MD), Manipal Hospitals.

Last weekend, Bombay Hospital started giving free vaccine doses. On Friday, 220 people received free shots. The hospital is sitting on an inventory of 17,000 doses.

Several city hospitals have anything between 10,000 and 20,000 doses lying with them. Hinduja Hospital, for example, has around 15,000 doses with an April-May date of expiration. The hospital’s Chief Operating Officer Joy Chakraborty says they are in a comfortable situation.

Others like Hiranandani Hospital have indicated they will wait another two months. If they still have idle stock, they will start giving it to the hospital staff and the elderly.

Harsh Mahajan, president, NATHEALTH, and founder and MD of Mahajan Imaging, said a significant unused stock in the private sector is due to the relatively high cost, compared with free government vaccines.

“Private hospitals are trying their best to liquidate stock by sharing with others in the private sector and also by requesting the government to purchase back the vaccines at cost price. An attempt is also being made to request vaccine manufacturers to take back unused stock, because the quicker these vaccines are injected, the higher the chances of thwarting a third wave of the pandemic,” he said.

“Another way in which these stocks may be gainfully utilised is if the government permits booster doses in health care and front line workers who received their full dose over eight months ago and whose immunity may be waning,” he added.

Private hospitals are going slow on fresh orders.

“We order our vaccine stocks in a prudent manner, so that we are never overstocked. We are also reaching out to people to take their second dose. While we continue to vaccinate across all our centres in India, the volumes are currently low. We urge all eligible adults to take their vaccine doses and follow Covid-appropriate behaviour,” said Bishnu Panigrahi, group head, medical strategy and operations, Fortis Healthcare. Business Standard