Vaccination drive is underway in India since January 16. (Image: Reuters)
Medica Superspecialty Hospital, one of the largest private hospitals based in Kolkata, on March 1, the first day of the second phase of COVID-19 vaccination, said it had inoculated 123 senior citizens. This was in addition to healthcare and front-line workers it has been inoculating.
"We are vaccinating around 300, we can expand the capacity by three times to do 1,000 inoculations per day," said Dr Alok Roy, Chairman, Medica Superspecialty Hospital. Roy is also the Chair of FICCI Health Services Committee.
Roy welcomed the government's decision to involve private hospitals in the second phase of the vaccination drive and said it was the only way to fast-track vaccination.
It isn't Medica alone, one of India's largest hospital chain - with a network of 27 hospitals across 15 cities - Manipal Hospitals, is also gearing up in a big way to participate in the second phase of the vaccination drive.
Dr Ranjan Pai, Chairman, Manipal Education and Medical Group (MEMG) told Moneycontrol that they could comfortably ramp up vaccination capacity to 25,000 - 30,000 per day without sweating the assets.
Pai said while the Rs 100 offered as service fee is a bit lower, the "bigger aim" is the social cause of helping the government in speeding up the vaccination drive over profits.
Private sector participation
Private sector was roped in for the Phase-2 of COVID-19 vaccination drive, where the government plans to vaccinate 30 crore people over the age of 60 and those who are above 45 with co-morbidities.
Around 10,000 private hospitals empanelled under Ayushman Bharat PM-JAY, more than 600 hospitals empanelled under CGHS and other private hospitals empanelled under state governments' health insurance schemes can participate as COVID vaccination centres.
It is estimated that 20,000 private facilities will be available as COVID-19 vaccination centres.
Volumes to be the key for private participation
Unlike the first phase, where the central government controlled and foot the entire bill of inoculating 3 crore healthcare and front-line workers, in the second phase, the government has allowed the private sector to charge people.
While the government COVID-19 vaccination centres will offer the vaccine for free, with the Centre picking the tab, private hospitals can charge a maximum of Rs 250 for a dose - Rs 150 for vaccine plus Rs 100 service charge, taking the cost of full inoculation with two doses to Rs 500 a person.
Roy said the private hospitals had no role in the pricing of the vaccine. That's an agreement between the government and vaccine manufacturers. The government procures COVID-19 vaccines and stockpiles them at its cold chain facilities. We will directly buy from the government by paying Rs 150 per dose.
Serum Institute of India's (SII) Covishield and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin are being used in the country.
The private hospitals will have to provide adequate space, cold-chain arrangements, vaccinators and support staff along with arrangements for addressing adverse events following immunisation, or what is commonly known as side-effects. If there is any wastage of the vaccine, it will be the responsibility of the private hospital.
Private hospital executives said there wasn't going to be much profit at Rs 100 service fee, but they believe that vaccinating in higher volumes will not only help them recover costs of administration, storage, and utilities, but enable them to make some money.
Another executive of a private hospital, who didn't want to be named, said resolving the technical glitches of Co-Win platform would hold key in expanding the COVID-19 vaccination drive.
"Co-Win is critical to how we plan our procurement and utilisation, the platform is still not stable, we expect the government to fix this on priority," the executive said.