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Private hospitals urge for COVID booster shots, buyback to clear vaccine stock

With a considerable drop in the daily vaccinations being carried out at the private hospitals, the Association of Healthcare Providers, India (AHPI) has urged the Centre to allow booster Covid-19 doses for healthcare workers and people in the high-risk category, in order to avoid any wastage. In Maharashtra, nearly 52 lakh doses are currently in the private sector hospitals and most hospitals fear that the vaccines may expire due to the low demand.

The Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covishield has a shelf life of nine months. Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin had a shelf life of six months, but it has now been extended to 12 months. Private hospitals were allowed to procure vaccines directly from the manufactures from May this year. Most hospitals, therefore, have vaccine stocks likely to expire between February and April 2022.

“But with the demand for paid vaccination gone down, some of the doses available with us can be utilised as boosters,” said Dr Joy Chakraborty, chief operating officer (COO) of the PD Hinduja Hospital in Mahim and president of AHPI’s Maharashtra and Goa chapter. AHPI represents the majority of healthcare providers in the country and it has been in a constant dialogue with the government over the past several weeks about vaccine stocks. “We have put forward a proposal to the government to consider allowing a third dose for healthcare workers and those with comorbid conditions or compromised immunity,” he said.

According to Dr Chakraborty, PD Hinduja currently has a stock of 19,000 doses which will expire in April 2022. But the hospital has recorded a 90% drop in its daily vaccinations. From an average of 2,300 to 2,400 shots administered daily in June, the numbers have dropped to 200 per day now.

Most private hospitals have witnessed this decline after vaccine stocks in government centres became abundantly available. A doctor said that private hospitals indulged in panic buying during the months of May, June and July, not realising that the public sector had started receiving stocks smoothly. Over the months, the public sector also added more centres, which helped decentralisation.

The cost of one dose of the vaccine ranges from ₹780 to ₹1,400 in the private sector. “People who were willing to pay for the jabs have already taken them,” said Dr Prince Surana, chief executive of Mumbai’s Surana Group of Hospitals that were administering an average of 1,500 doses between June and July and the numbers have now dropped to 300 per day. “Now, people mostly prefer going to the public centres as the crowd had reduced,” he said.

A small group of doctors had approached SII as well as the state government to discuss the possibility of buying back the stocks from them. “But the buyback option was shot down questioning the manner in which private hospitals may have stored the stocks,” said a doctor who had participated in the dialogue.

Dr Archana Patil, head of the Directorate of Health Services (DHS) Maharashtra said the state government can’t do much on this issue. “The private hospitals should tie-up for corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in districts across the state to exhaust their stocks. They should not allow the stocks to get wasted at any cost,” she said.

National Covid-19 task force member Dr Subash Salunkhe agreed. “It will be criminal negligence if any of the stocks are wasted. Private hospitals should bear the loss, but tie-up with smaller districts or companies and carry out free vaccinations, if needed. They should figure out ways in which their vaccines could be directed to areas with low vaccination coverage,” said Salunkhe, who is also a former advisor to Maharashtra on Covid-19. Salunkhe believes that the Centre must allow a third dose for the healthcare workers and immunocompromised citizens. Hindustan Times