Under flak, Punjab govt asks private hospitals to return vaccine stock
Facing flak from the Centre and state opposition parties for selling Covid vaccines to private hospitals at a premium, the Punjab government on Friday asked these facilities to return all the stock.
The dramatic turnabout came after opposition parties – Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) –- slammed the Congress government for “selling” to private hospitals doses meant to be administered free.
The Centre too wrote to the state government, seeking a clarification over reports that it had earned a profit by selling jabs. Union minister Prakash Javdekar also criticised the Punjab government’s decision.
Hindustan Times was first to highlight how the vaccine, procured on state government rate of ₹400 per dose, was sold to private hospitals at the rate of ₹1,060 per dose. The private hospitals were further selling the dose at ₹1,560.
After Punjab state health minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said he has ordered a probe into the allegations, the state government issued the new order, withdrawing “one-time” instructions to private hospitals to vaccinate people in the 18-45 years category. Now, the recalled vaccine doses will be administered free to this age group by the government, the minister said.
“The order of providing one-time limited vaccine doses through private hospitals has not been taken in the right spirit and is hereby withdrawn. Further, it has been decided that the private hospitals should return forthwith all the vaccine doses available with them,” Vikas Garg, who is in charge of Punjab’s Covid vaccination programme, said in the order.
Once they get their own direct supplies from the manufacturers, the private hospitals will also return to the state government the doses they have already used up. Private hospitals will now get direct supplies of vaccination from the manufacturers. The amount deposited by them in the “vaccine fund” will be refunded by the government.
In letter to Punjab health department‘s principal secretary, Union health ministry additional secretary Vandana Gurnani said: “Prima facie, it’s a clear violation of liberalised pricing and accelerated national Covid-19 vaccination strategy. “As per this strategy, the private sector hospitals are directly procuring COVID-l9 vaccines from the vaccine manufacturers,” the letter said, seeking a clarification from the state.
”It’s a dangerous news... The state government wants to make a profit from the vaccination. What kind of government is this?” Javadekar told reporters in Delhi. He also targeted Rahul Gandhi on the issue, saying the Congress leader, instead of giving lectures to others, should first consider how to set things right in place in the state ruled by his party.
Earlier, Balbir Sidhu said: “The vaccination procurement is done by officers who don’t belong to my department. Sometimes people take wrong decisions.” Sidhu, who is already upset with certain officers for not involving him in key decisions relating to the Covid management, also took up the matter with chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh. Amarinder was apprised that how a decision taken by certain officers, had damaged the image of the government. The CM, it is learnt, asked Sidhu to take corrective measures immediately.