What the government's new vaccination policy means for states and you

The Union government has allowed for anyone over the age of 18 to be vaccinated, as well as opened up vaccines to states and the open market.
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On Monday, the Union government announced that it was opening up vaccination for everyone above the age of 18 in the country, amid a massive second wave of COVID-19 that India is struggling to grapple with. So far, the government has been procuring the vaccines from the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech — Covishield and Covaxin — at a subsidised price of Rs 200 and Rs 206 per dose respectively, and has been giving it for free to states. It’s administered for free in government hospitals and is capped at Rs 250 at private hospitals. 

Now, the Union government has said that states can open up vaccination to any category of people above the age of 18. In its announcement that the government said was liberalising the vaccination program, it said that instead of vaccine manufacturers selling all their stock to the government, companies such as SII, Bharat Biotech and Dr Reddy’s (Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V) will now have to sell only 50% to the Union government. The remaining 50% doses will be supplied to state governments and in the open market.

“Vaccination shall continue as before in Govt. of India vaccination centres, provided free of cost to the eligible population as defined earlier i.e. Health Care Workers (HCWs), Front Line Workers (FLWs) and all people above 45 years of age,” the Union government said. It has also said that the second dose of existing priority groups and for those above the age of 45 will be given priority.

What this means for you

Essentially, what this means is that you can choose to get vaccinated from private hospitals by paying for the vaccine. If you are above 45 years of age, you can get vaccinated at a government hospital/vaccination centre as well, for free.

What will the cost of getting vaccinated privately be? It is unclear currently, and there has been no cap set by the government. From statements made by vaccine manufacturers in the past, the price could be Rs 750 to Rs 1,000 per dose, depending on the vaccine.

SII CEO Adar Poonawalla had said back in January that the price in the private market of Covishield will be Rs 1,000 per dose, translating to Rs 2,000 for both doses.

Russia’s Sputnik V, to be distributed in India by Dr Reddy’s, is reported to be imported by May-end or early June. For its price in India, Dr Reddy’s co-chairman GV Prasad said it will continue to be the same as Sputnik’s global price — $10 (~Rs 750) per dose, or roughly Rs 1,500 for both doses. The price could be lower once production starts in India, he added. 

Vaccine procurement by state govts and private companies

State governments as well as private hospitals and corporates will now be able to procure vaccines from the manufacturers at a pre-set price. “Manufacturers would transparently make an advance declaration of the price for 50% supply that would be available to state governments and in the open market, before May 1,” the Union government said. 

It is important to note that this price — at which state governments and private players can buy the vaccines — will not be the same as what the Union government is currently paying the manufacturers. It is also unclear whether the Union government will be procuring the vaccines from the manufacturers at the same rate that it’s paying now.

In addition, all private vaccination providers can declare their self-set vaccination price.

State governments have to purchase vaccines at the same price that the open market has to, which could put additional strain on them with their budgets already crunched in the last year, at a time there’s been a shortfall of central taxes as well and delayed GST compensation. State governments may have to both buy the vaccine at higher prices, as well as make the decision of whether or not to subsidise them for the masses.

What happens to vaccines procured by Centre

From the vaccines that the Union government is procuring, it will allocate vaccines to states and UTs based on “the number of active COVID-19 cases as well as the performance or speed of the administration. “Wastage of vaccine will also be considered in this criteria and will affect the criteria negatively. Based on the above criteria, state-wise quota would be decided and communicated to the states adequately in advance,” the Union government said.

This announcement comes at a time that vaccines are in short supply, with many centres running out of vaccines and centres even being shut down. While funds have been sanctioned for ramping up the production of Covishield and Covaxin to SII and Bharat Biotech, that will take time as well. Sputnik, too, is expected to be available in India after over a month.

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