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Several private hospitals across India are offering discounts on covid-19 vaccines that are approaching expiry dates, as people choose to get free jabs from government centres.

The private vaccination centres, which normally charge 780 for a Covishield dose and 1,410 for Covaxin, are struggling to use up their stockpiled vaccines by their September expiry date, as improved vaccine supply in government centres made it easy for people to get free shots.

To ensure that vaccines aren’t wasted, some private vaccination centres are offering the vaccines at purchase rates and also waiving services charges. Some have slashed rates even lower.

“There is an excess of vaccine availability across the country. These include places in West Bengal, Gujarat and Jharkhand. The private sector would like the government to take these vaccine doses at purchase cost. Otherwise, it will go waste due to expiry," said Girdhar J. Gyani, director general, Association of Healthcare Providers (India) (AHPI).

Gyani said that some hospital chains such as Narayana Health and Yashoda hospitals in Hyderabad have not been levying service charges right from the beginning.

“Others may do the same to get the vaccine consumed. All this is happening due to many reasons like some regions get excess government supply, and at other places there is hesitancy; so all in all, we need to do the mapping to assess the demand and accordingly procure. With this, it is becoming very difficult for the private sector to sustain," Gyani said.

The government in June changed its vaccine procurement policy to buying 75% of the total production and leaving 25% for the private sector to be procured directly from the manufacturers.

In order to incentivize production by vaccine manufacturers and encourage new vaccines, domestic vaccine manufacturers have been given the option to also provide vaccines directly to private hospitals, which is restricted to 25% of their monthly production, the government said.

Private hospitals are trying to use up the doses by arranging special drives at reduced rates. Some hospitals are even giving free vaccinations through their corporate social responsibility funds, while some others are transferring their vaccine stock to other hospitals.

“At all our hospitals, we are organizing special camps periodically for providing vaccines at buying rates since the aim is to achieve maximum immunization as fast as possible. With the government planning to vaccinate all its citizens by the end of 2021, these efforts will certainly scale up vaccination in the country as it will also empower smaller players to procure doses," said Dr. Shankar Narang, chief operating officer, Paras Healthcare.

In July, the Union government asked states to review vaccine procurement by private centres.

“In our hospital, we have vaccines of 22 September expiry, but consumption in private centres has drastically declined. We are not sure if we can exhaust them by then. People are opting for free vaccinations from government and municipal centres," said Dr Nirmal G. Choraria, chairman of Surat-based Nirmal Hospital Pvt. Ltd.

“Our hospital conducted several camps for such segments of the society who could not afford the vaccination cost, which not just reduced the burden on government centres, but also helped in adequate vaccination volume supporting the steady consumption of the vaccine," said Navneet Bali, regional director- north, Narayana Health.

In July, the Centre also asked covid-19 vaccine makers not to reserve 25% production of doses for private hospitals following the slow pace of inoculation in private sector vaccination centres.

Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya in Parliament said in an oral reply that the unutilized doses by the private sector will now be used by government covid vaccination centres. However, according to officials in the Union health ministry, no progress has been made in this regard.

The country’s cumulative covid-19 vaccination coverage crossed 721 million on Thursday, with 550 million people getting at least one dose.

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