Facing criticism over a new vaccine policy that could have people paying far more for a Covid shot, the government today put out a clarification. It said that vaccines procured by the central government would be provided free to states. However, the statement says nothing on the higher prices of vaccines sourced by states and private hospitals directly from the manufacturers.
“It is clarified that the government of India’s procurement price for both COVID-19 vaccines remains Rs 150 per dose. GOI procured doses will continue to be provided TOTALLY FREE to states,” the Ministry of Health tweeted this morning.
It is clarified that Govt of India’s procurement price for both #COVID19 vaccines remains Rs 150 per dose.
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) April 24, 2021
From May 1, vaccinations will be open to all adults, but there will be three different prices, which has provoked furious protests from several states and opposition parties.
So far, the Centre was buying vaccines from manufacturers – Covishield from Serum Institute of India (SII) and Covaxin from Bharat Biotech – and distributing them free of cost to states.
While opening up vaccinations to all above 18, the Centre has tweaked its policy to allow states and private entities to buy doses directly from vaccine-makers. Manufacturers are free to supply 50 per cent of the doses to states and in the open market.
It also said it would continue to provide free inoculation to existing beneficiaries – health workers, frontline workers and all above 45.
The Serum Institute of India on Wednesday announced that Covishield would be priced at Rs 400 a dose for states and Rs 600 for private hospitals.
Serum also said it would continue to sell the vaccines at the existing rate of Rs 150 a dose to the centre. This means that a Covid shot will be cheapest at any central government facility but at state government centres and private hospitals, people have to pay more.
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is among those who have lashed out. “I will take up the matter with the Prime Minister and write a strong letter to him. Why should there be different prices for Centre, States and even private hospitals? Why this discrimination? This is the time to help the people and it is not the time to increase business,” she said. In Tamil Nadu, opposition DMK chief MK Stalin said different prices defeats the aim of universal vaccination and is discriminatory.
The Centre’s clarification follows a report in the Indian Express newspaper that says at Rs 600 ($8) a dose, Indians will end up paying the highest price at private hospitals for Covishield – the Indian name for the vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca.
Those getting their shots at state government hospitals could end up paying around Rs 400 per dose if states decide they cannot afford to absorb the costs of procuring fresh doses directly from the makers.
The government’s clarification made it clear that it was up to states to decide prices of the shot since they will get doses free of cost from the Centre.
The report says even Rs 400 is higher than the price at which governments in countries such as the US, UK and in Europe are sourcing directly from AstraZeneca.
Serum CEO Adar Poonawalla had said the subsidized rate of Rs 150 per dose to the government was only for a “limited” period of time. “We’re supplying in India at approximately Rs 150-160. The average price is around $20 (Rs 1,500)… (but) because of the Modi government’s request, we are providing at subsidised rates… It is not that we’re not making profits… but we are not making super profits, which is key to re-investing,” he told NDTV earlier this month.
Reacting to the Express report, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted that prices must be renegotiated.
COVISHIELD @ ₹400 for new govt procurement is higher than what govts of US, UK, EU, Saudi, Bangladesh & SA pay.
Made in India & highest price for India?
By SII’s own admission profits are made even at ₹150.
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) April 24, 2021
The Health Ministry’s response to this tweet says the Centre’s procurement price “remains” Rs 150 per dose.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Friday suggested states should jointly form a price negotiation committee to work out a uniform rate with the manufacturers.