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Return unused COVID-19 vaccine stock, govt tells private hospitals

In the run-up to the universal immunisation drive starting May 1, private hospitals are being told to return the un-used stock of Covid-19 vaccines to the State Government by the end of this month. Many states are learnt to have already issued an advisory to hospitals on this.

The state-level advisory follows a diktat from the Centre. Union Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan, had in a letter dated April 23, directed all state chief secretaries that any un-utilised vaccine stock balance as on April 30 would have to be returned to the cold chain point from where they were issued. The system of supplying vaccine stocks to private Covid vaccination centers (CVCs) and collection of Rs 150 per dose will be discontinued May onwards.

In fact, the Centre has directed all states to do a stock-taking of the funds deposited by private CVCs, vaccine doses supplied to them and those utilized so far.

Rupak Barua, CEO of Kolkata-based AMRI Hospitals, said the entire system of procurement of vaccines that was in place since January 16 would stop now as the third phase was about to start on May 1.

AMRI Hospital is among those to have received an advisory from the West Bengal government to return the unused doses by April 30.

As for the next move by hospitals to procure vaccines for the universal immunisation drive starting in four days, Barua said, “We have approached vaccine manufacturers, but so far they have been unable to indicate any date for supply. If the central government allows, the state government will procure for private hospitals, which can be bought at the new price.”

Leading private hospital chains in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru too have got communication from state administrations about returning the unused vaccines.

In Mumbai, the civic body has assured private hospitals that it would help them procure doses to vaccinate people in May.

“While senior civic body officials today assured help in getting Covid vaccines, we do not know the rates at which we have to buy.

We expect more clarity to emerge over the next few days,” said a hospital administrator in Mumbai.

It is not clear whether Maharashtra would supply the vaccines at the same rate at which it procures as rates for states and private hospitals vary.

Meanwhile, many hospitals believe there would be a reconciliation of stocks on April 30.

Private hospitals have started engaging with vaccine makers. “We are enquiring about supplies, prices and procurement. There will be more clarity on volumes available in sometime,” said Joy Chakraborty, COO, Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai.

The Union health ministry letter (to states) had mentioned that state administrations must make a “careful assessment of the potential for full utilization’’ of such vaccine doses till April 30 before issuing any further stocks to private CVCs.

On its part, the Maharashtra government has written to both Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech seeking information on how many doses these vaccine makers may be able to supply for six months starting May. Maharashtra has said it needs 120 million doses for the 18-44 year old age group and has asked the vaccine makers to mention the price at which they can supply these doses.

Pricing of vaccines has turned controversial after the Centre on Monday asked the two vaccine makers to lower their prices. Serum Institute had announced a price of Rs 400 per dose for state governments and Rs 600 per dose for private hospitals. Bharat Biotech had said it would supply state governments for Rs 600 per dose and would charge private hospitals Rs 1,200 per dose.

Meanwhile, the Co-WIN platform, registration on which is mandatory for the next phase, has been modified to allow each private CVC to mention the vaccine type, stock available as well as the price at which a citizen can get it. Business Standard

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