Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Tuesday said in Parliament that private hospitals in the country were not fully using the 25% coronavirus vaccine quota allotted to them, PTI reported. He added that unutilised doses will now be used by government facilities.

“In a month, we saw 7% to 9% unused vaccines by private hospitals,” the health minister said in response to a question by Bharatiya Janata Party member Sushil Kumar Modi. “So, we decided to take those unutilised doses in the government quota. Therefore, it is not necessary to reduce the quota for the private. The vaccination is happening smoothly.”

Some reports even suggested that the Centre has removed the 25% reservation for private entities.

India’s vaccination programme

Initially, the Centre procured vaccines from the manufacturers directly and supplied them to states. However, with states reporting acute shortages of vaccines during the brutal second wave of Covid-19, the Centre changed the procurement policy in April, allowing states to directly purchase vaccines for people aged 18-44 years, even though barring West Bengal, no other state had explicitly asked for such rights.

The Centre, meanwhile, continued to supply vaccines to states for those above the age of 45.

The change in policy was widely criticised for creating an untenable situation of several states competing to buy vaccines from a small set of approved vaccine makers at a time of massive scarcity. Experts argued the Centre was better placed to negotiate vaccine purchase. On June 2, even the Supreme Court said the policy of the Centre providing free vaccines for those above 45 years while abdicating responsibility for younger age groups was “prima facie arbitrary and irrational”.

Under pressure, the Centre partially reversed its policy on June 7, taking back the responsibility for procuring vaccines for states. It now buys 75% of all doses, while allowing private hospitals to procure 25% of the total manufactured vaccines. With private hospitals charging up to Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,600 and more for just one dose, experts have raised questions if it was realistic to expect 25% of the population to access vaccines through this channel.

Several chief ministers have also written to the Union government calling for a reduction in the percentage allotted to the private sector, down from 25% to 10% or even 5%, arguing that this would speed up the pace of India’s vaccination.

An official reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha revealed that, between May 1 and July 15, only 7% of vaccines had been administered by the private sector, despite 25% of doses being kept aside over that same period. On July 15, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had termed “the slow pace of vaccination through the PCVCs [private vaccination centers] as a cause of serious worry”.

Also read: Will the Modi government now do a U-turn on its 25% vaccine quota for the private sector?