The Punjab government on Friday withdrew its order to supply coronavirus vaccines to private hospitals, amid a controversy over the Opposition’s accusations that it was profiting off the sale of the shots, ANI reported.
“The order of providing one-time limited vaccine doses to the 18-44 years age group population through private hospitals has not been taken in the right spirit and is hereby withdrawn,” the order signed by Vikas Garg, Punjab’s in-charge for vaccination, read.
It added: “Further, it has been decided that the private hospitals should return forthwith all the vaccine doses available with them. The doses which they have utilised as of date should also be returned, once they get supplies from the manufacturers. The amount deposited by private hospitals in the vaccine fund shall be refunded to them.”
The controversy in Punjab erupted after Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal on Thursday alleged that the government procured Covaxin at Rs 400 per dose, but sold it to private hospitals for Rs 1,060, which in turn charged people Rs 1,560 for each dose.
Badal accused the Punjab government of creating an artificial shortage of vaccines. He also drew Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan’s attention to the “scam”.
“It is immoral for Punjab govt [government] to profit from sale of vaccines,” he added. “People being punished during a time of economic slowdown.”
After Badal’s accusations, the Union health ministry on Friday asked Punjab to offer a clarification. It cited NDTV’s report on the controversy. “The state government is, therefore, requested to confirm the veracity of this news article,” the health ministry said in a letter to the principal secretary of Punjab’s health department, according to the news channel.
Union minister Javadekar also hit out at the Congress government in Punjab. “It’s dangerous news,” he said, according to PTI. They [the Punjab government] got over 1.4 lakh doses of Covaxin at Rs 400 each. And they gave some of the vaccines to 20 private hospitals at Rs 1,000 each. The state government wants to make a profit from the vaccination. What kind of government is this?”
Meanwhile, Punjab Health Minister BS Sidhu promised to conduct an inquiry into the Opposition’s allegations, ANI reported.
“I don’t have control over vaccines,” he said. “This comes under the chief secretary and other officials. I just look over treatment, testing, sampling of Covid-19 and vaccination camps. We will definitely set up an inquiry, I myself can inquire about the matter.”
Several states are facing shortages of vaccines, which has severely hampered India’s inoculation drive. Many of them have sought to procure vaccines through global tenders or by approaching manufacturers directly. However, some administrations, including in Delhi and Kerala, have said that global vaccine makers refused to coordinate with them.
As the fourth phase of inoculation began on May 1, the Central government had announced a differential pricing for states, allowing them to buy vaccine doses on their own. Before that, the Centre was procuring and allocating vaccines to states.
In the latest roll out, however, the Centre took responsibility for sourcing only 50% of the doses for what has been categorised as the vulnerable population – those above 45 years, healthcare and frontline workers. This essentially means that vaccinations for all those below 45 years will have to be paid for by the states or by the citizens themselves. The Centre will not pay.
The new “liberalised and accelerated” strategy has been severely criticised. Vaccination rates have fallen steadily nearly every week since early April as many states complained of shortages.