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NEW DELHI : Private hospitals are struggling to sustain the massive inoculation drive across the country because of an inefficient vaccine distribution process and higher prices of covid-19 vaccines at these centres compared with government hospitals.

Representatives of private covid vaccination centres (PCVC) said they are unable to procure enough vaccines either due to lack of coordination at the state government level or the inability of producers to supply enough jabs.

About 77% of 70 hospitals that took part in a study conducted by the Association of Healthcare Providers (India) (AHPI) in the first half of July said they were not getting timely supply of vaccines.

“Surprisingly, 41% hospitals said there were no nodal officers appointed by state governments in their localities. While in the rest of areas, there were nodal officers, but 67% hospitals said there was no help from the nodal officers," said Dr Girdhar Gyani, director general, AHPI.

The Union government on Wednesday asked states to review vaccine procurement by private hospitals on a daily basis after reports of low immunization numbers at these centres.

Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a reversal of the liberalized covid vaccination policy, following criticism from the Supreme Court, states and public health experts.

Under the revised policy effective 21 June, the Centre will buy 75% of the total production of covid shots in the country and distribute it to states. Vaccine makers can sell the remaining 25% directly to private hospitals.

The government was buying half of the vaccine production under the liberalized policy earlier. The Centre also decided to foot the bill for vaccinating all citizens, except for those choosing private vaccination centres.

“The new system, which was to come in effect from 21 June, has still not been in full functionality," said Gyani. He cited the instance of Delhi’s Bhagat Hospital, which unsuccessfully tried to order vaccines on the Co-WIN portal and finally placed an order for 6,000 doses directly with the Serum Institute of India (SII) last week. The hospital has yet to hear from SII on its order.

There is also the issue of inequity among states in their response to the vaccination drive, Gyani said. For instance, in Jharkhand, the overall response to getting a jab has been low, perhaps due to a large percentage of people who live below the poverty line and cannot afford paid vaccines.

Last month, India also capped the prices of SII’s Covishield at private vaccination centres at 780 per dose, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin at 1,410 per dose and Russia’s Sputnik V at 1,145. It also said private hospitals cannot charge over 150 for administering a dose.

“While bottlenecks in the procurement of vaccines by PCVCs may be one of the factors responsible for the slow pace of vaccination in the private sector, a big factor appears to be the price, which is 780 for Covishield and 1,410 for Covaxin, as compared to 250 for either, which the government had fixed earlier," said Dr Harsh Mahajan, president, NATHEALTH.

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