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Pharma wrap | Will private sector entry help scale up COVID-19 vaccination?

From March 1, citizens over the age of 60 and those who are above 45 with co-morbidities will be able to get inoculated against the coronavirus as the government launches Phase 2 of the vaccination drive.

February 28, 2021 / 12:58 PM IST
India's COVID-19 vaccination drive began on January 16. (Representative Image)

India's COVID-19 vaccination drive began on January 16. (Representative Image)

All citizens over the age of 60 and those who are above 45 with co-morbidities will from March 1 be able to get inoculated against the coronavirus as the government expands the vaccination drive.

To ramp up vaccination, the government has decided to rope in private hospitals. Phase 2 of inoculation comes at a time when some states are seeing a surge in infections, pushing up the national tally that had been declining for weeks.

India's COVID-19 tally climbed to 1,10,96,731 on February 28, with 16,752 new infections, the highest in the last 30 days, Union health ministry data shows. The death toll mounted to 1,57,051 with 113 fresh fatalities in the last 24 hours.

In the first phase, launched on January 16, the government inoculated healthcare and frontline workers. So far, more than 1.2 crore doses have been administered, with 24.5 lakh people receiving both the doses.

Also read: COVID-19 Vaccination Phase 2: Full list of comorbidities that allow people above 45 years to get the jab

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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At the current pace, it is estimated it would take at least two and a half years to cover the entire population. On an average, India is inoculating about 5 lakh people a day, way short of the government's target of 13 lakh.

The government has capped the price and the service charge for private hospitals to ensure there is no profiteering.

Also read | COVID-19 vaccination phase 2: Eligible beneficiaries, how to register, documents required and more

What is at stake for the private sector?

Around 10,000 private hospitals empanelled under Ayushman Bharat PMJAY, more than 600 hospitals empanelled under CGHS and other private hospitals empanelled under state governments health insurance schemes can participate as COVID vaccination centres.

These will be in addition to the government facilities being used as vaccination centres. The government will geo-tag these health facilities.

The government 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 inoculation to Rs 500 a person.

India has approved Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and the Serum Institute of India (SII) manufactured Covishield. Both are two-dose vaccines.

The price offered by the private hospitals will be the same or lower than what the government paid for the jabs.

The government procured Covishield from SII at a discounted price of Rs 200 a dose, excluding taxes. Covaxin was priced at Rs 295 a dose for the government.

The private health facilities must follow strict norms, quality and safety standards, including integration with the National Co-Win technology platform.

All private hospitals must also have adequate space, cold-chain arrangements, vaccinators and support staff along with arrangements for addressing adverse event following immunization, or what is commonly known as side effects.

The government is yet to concede the demand from the private sector that they be allowed to inoculate their employees using the corporate social responsibility funds.

Follow our full coverage on COVID-19 here.
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: Feb 28, 2021 12:58 pm

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