No data on private vaccine procurement: Health Ministry

By Priscilla Jebaraj
Drive-in: A COVID-19 vaccination drive by a private hospital at a mall in Bengaluru in June. (Source: MURALI KUMAR K .)

The Health Ministry says it does not know how many COVID-19 vaccines were procured by private players, nor does it have separate data on how many vaccine doses were administered by private hospitals and service providers, according to its response to a Right to Information request filed by Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd).

Despite the fact that the government had reserved 25% of vaccine allocation for the private sector, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan recently said only 6% of doses administered since May were in private hospitals. To date, India has administered 65.8 crore doses.

Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal had earlier targeted industry groups for not doing enough on the vaccine drive. The Centre has capped inoculation charges by private players at ₹250.

Also read: Government will revert to centralised procurement of vaccines, says Modi

Commodore Batra’s query, dated August 11, asked how many doses were directly purchased by private players, and how many they administered.

On August 31, the Health Ministry responded, denying the information requested. “Private hospitals/institutions etc procure vaccines directly from the vaccine manufacturers. Data asked pertains between manufacturers and private hospitals/institutions etc,” it said. After an appeal, the Ministry reiterated its stance on September 23, insisting that “this information is not maintained and is not available” as private procurement is done directly.

Also read: Vaccines for all above 18 from May 1; States can buy directly

In his appeal, Commodore Batra had cited a June affidavit filed in the Supreme Court where the Centre had said it would “facilitate supply of vaccines to private hospitals [under the 25% quota] and their payment through the National Health Authority’s electronic platform” to ensure “equitable access and regional balance”.

With regard to doses administered, the Ministry initially said “Separate vaccination data is not available”, pointing to the COWIN dashboard for overall data. On Sept 23, it added that “data of COVID-19 vaccination doses administered by [private players] may be obtained from the States/UTs where such private COVID vaccination centres are located.”

Interestingly, on the same day, Mr. Bhushan told journalists at a weekly COVID briefing that roughly 6% of vaccines administered since May 1 had been done in private facilities.

In July, Mr. Goyal had lashed out at industry groups which had made grand promises of carrying out one crore vaccinations, or taking the vaccine drive to remote parts of the country. “You all [in the private sector] demanded and I remember how much you all fought with me and sought that vaccination be opened up for the private sector. Today, you are not even buying those 25% of vaccines [allotted to you],” he said, at an event organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry.

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