The Centre has capped the prices at which vaccines will be sold at private hospitals. With a ceiling of ₹150 that hospitals can charge per dose as ‘service charge’ and a GST of 5%, the maximum price chargeable for Covishield is ₹780, for Covaxin, ₹1,410 and for Sputnik V ₹1,145, the Union Health Ministry said in an order on Tuesday.
The State governments would be entrusted with ensuring that these price barriers were not breached and if, in future, vaccine prices fell, it would influence the maximum cap.
The high price of COVID-19 vaccines at private hospitals is “unacceptable”, and the revised vaccination policy will see reductions, said V.K. Paul, Chairman of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19, on Tuesday.
Dr. Paul’s remarks came a day after the Centre announced a revised vaccine policy from June 21 in which everyone above 18 will be eligible for free vaccines at government centres and State governments will no longer need to compete to buy vaccines.
Addressing a press conference, Dr. Paul said, “It is unacceptable that hospitals charge ₹1,600 or even ₹4,000 for vaccines that cost ₹600. They must limit their price. Earlier it was ₹100 and we felt that there is a need for it to be increased. We are confident that this will encourage more hospitals, across the country and not just big cities, to come forward for administering vaccines.”
Though vaccines would be available to all the Centre would continue to give "the highest priority" to healthcare workers, Dr. Paul added.
Currently, nearly 9,000 private hospitals across the country are involved in the vaccination programme, and the government expects more of the 25,000-30,000 hospitals across the country to be more involved in the programme.
States would also be tasked with aggregating demand of private hospitals keeping equitable distribution between large and small hospitals and regional balance, Dr. Paul added.
Referring to the Supreme Court's comments on the inequity of vaccine distribution, he said that while the Centre “respected” these views, the changes in policy were a result of continuous monitoring by the Centre and feedback from all sections of society.
Prices for vaccines would be declared to hospitals in advance by companies, he added.
While everyone would be eligible for free vaccines, people could, of their own accord, opt for paid vaccinations as well as offer to pay for anyone else’s vaccines via electronic vouchers, Dr. Paul added. There would also be the option of on-site registration for everyone over 18 unlike the current system where everyone in the 18-44 category needs to register in advance on the CoWin portal.
Private hospitals have, however, expressed reservations over the changed norms. The larger hospital chains that dominate vaccine procurement say the price is too low given the higher costs the hospitals incur, and the government should aim to reduce the vaccine prices for the private hospitals as well.
“The cap of ₹150 will not cover the additional costs incurred for such off-site vaccination camps which involve substantial costs... We urge the government to consider a higher charge,” Fortis Healthcare said in a statement on Monday following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address.