On Wednesday, May 25 as soon as the Telangana government announced that vaccination for the 18-44 age group at private hospitals and workplaces will be allowed, Mounika, a marketing professional in Hyderabad began trying to find a slot through the Co-WIN portal. She set up alerts over a Telegram group to be informed about vaccine availability and had a browser extension to help her find a vaccine slot over the Co-WIN portal, â€śBut by the time I logged in within a few minutes the slots were all booked,â€ť says a dejected Mounika, who has since then been making several attempts to register for a vaccine slot in Hyderabad, but in vain.
The Telangana government after halting its vaccination programme for ten days due to limited vaccine stock resumed the drive only on May 25. Only 56,004 people in the 45 years and above age group received their second dose of the vaccine that day. Despite the limited supply, the state announced that it hopes to get the 18 to 44 age group vaccinated at private hospitals and at workplaces that tie up with hospitals. On May 26, barely 16 private hospitals were listed on the Co-WIN portal to vaccinate the 18 to 44 age group across Hyderabad. Eight of these vaccination centres belonged to hospital chains such as Apollo and Yashoda. Most private hospitals across Telangana are staying out of the COVID-19 vaccination drives, mostly due to the lack of vaccines and the Union Ministry of Health rules on infrastructure requirements at vaccination sites, say hospital owners and administrators.
Parthasarathy Rao, the owner of Poulomi hospital in Hyderabad says about 240 hospitals in Telangana were roped in to administer vaccines for age 45 plus in March this year. â€śThe present number of private vaccination centres are not enough to vaccinate all above the age of 18 across the whole state,â€ť says the doctor. The present vaccine shortage for the age 18 to 44 group has its roots in Union government policy for vaccines, adds the doctor.
From May 1 the vaccine supply is being divided, with 50% of supply earmarked for the Union government and the other 50% for the open market. States and private hospitals have to source the vaccines through the open market from the manufacturer directly.
Under normal circumstances, this is fine, says Rao. â€śAll private hospitals across India have to source vaccines from a 25 % pool of the vaccine stock available in the open market. The other 25% is earmarked for the state. We placed an order for 5,000 doses of Covishield, sent several emails to the manufacturer but they are not even responding. The state can allow 18 to 44 age groups to get vaccinated but getting slots wonâ€™t be easy,â€ť he adds.
Telangana hopes to procure 3.35 lakh doses of Covishield and 2.5 lakh doses of Covaxin by June first week. As of May 26, the state claims it has 61,800 doses of Covishield in stock and 2.5 lakh doses of Covaxin.
A spokesperson for CARE hospital says they are yet to begin vaccination drives for those above 18 years and will administer vaccines only at their Banjara Hills facility. The hospital chain has ordered 5,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine which will be available when stocks arrive in the first week of June.
Yashoda hospital has vaccination drives at their three facilities in the city and provides only 100 vaccine doses per day. A limit set by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) in their COVID-19 operational guidelines.
Dr Rakesh V, President, Telangana Aarogyasri Network of Hospitals Association (TANHA) says there are over 2,500 private hospitals in Telangana of which over 500 are currently engaged in COVID-19 care and these hospitals will eventually begin vaccination drives. â€śThese 500 odd hospitals combined with the government health infrastructure is more than sufficient to vaccinate all of Telangana. The problem is only in the shortage of vaccines,â€ť says the doctor who adds that most private hospitals in the state do not comply with the MoHFW rules for COVID-19 operations due to lack of adequate infrastructure.
The COVID-19 Operation guidelines ask hospitals to allocate a well-demarcated area for COVID-19 vaccination. This area has to be separate from where routine health services are provided at health facilities, â€śOnly those who have the infrastructure capacity will apply for the vaccination drive to be carried out at their facilities. How many vaccines they procure, depends on how much they can afford and the infrastructure capacity per centre,â€ť says Rakesh. He also says that though medically practical, this will limit the number of private hospital facilities that get roped into the vaccination drive.
Speaking to TNM, the owner of a private hospital in Hyderabad who did not wish to be named says, "A vaccination drive is a year-long process, we will have to dedicate a part of our facility for this service. Ours being a non-COVID-19 hospital, we don't wish to expose our staff to the virus. We have a lot of non-COVID-19 work going on which is critical for our non- COVID-19 patients."