In his national address to celebrate India administering over 100 crore doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on October 22, Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeated the misleading claim that every citizen in India has availed of the free vaccine for all campaign. Although the "Sabko Vaccine, Muft vaccine" initiative was launched to provide the COVID vaccine for free, many people across the country had to pay private health players to get vaccinated.
According to the last available data released by the health secretary Rajesh Bhushan, over six percent of the total vaccines given in the country between May 1 and September 22 were through the private healthcare facilities. Post this information which he released to the media on September 23 in the weekly press conference held by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there has been no further data on the COVID-19 vaccine bifurcation administered at private and public centres.
While, the government procures 75 per cent of the vaccines available in the country, 25 per cent is still purchased by the private sector and made available for the citizens.
"Sabko Vaccine, Muft Vaccine" was a slogan that Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave when vaccines for all adults between the ages of 18-44 were going to begin on May 1. In the initial stages, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had shared that the Centre would procure 50 per cent of the vaccines. The remaining 50 per cent was supposed to be distributed between the States, UTs and the private players.
After the Supreme Court pulled up the Centre for its arbitrary vaccination policy for the 18-44 age group and confusing the citizens, PM Modi in an address to the nation declared that the Centre would procure vaccines, even for the ones in the 18-44 age group and distribute them for free at the public centres. The private centres would still continue to procure 25 per cent of the produced vaccines directly from the manufacturers.
Earlier, Mansukh Mandaviya, the health minister had also reportedly claimed that vaccines are free while urging people to get vaccinated on September 17, which was PM Modi's birthday. The country administered over 2 crore doses on that day, however, it later came to light that many BJP states had decreased their vaccination rates in the days running to this day.
The government had fixed charges for the three vaccines that are currently available at private hospitals in the country. For Covishield, private hospitals can charge ₹780, for Covaxin they can charge ₹1410, and for Sputnik they can charge ₹1145.
Furthermore, the government had always intended to let the private hospitals be a part of the vaccination drive in the country. While other countries are vaccinating their citizens for free even at private hospitals, in India that is not the norm.
When asked at the weekly press conference, Rajesh Bhushan, Health Secretary shared that over six per cent of the doses between May 1 and September 22 were administered by the private sector. The government however has till date not shared the absolute number of vaccines administered by the public and the private sector, respectively.
The CoWin dashboard which acts as a vaccine tracker and provides real time information on the number of doses administered and number of registrations, also highlights the number of vaccination sites that are active at any given point of time. The total number of active sites are further divided into public and private vaccination sites. At the time of publishing this story, there were 91,055 active vaccination sites in the country- 88,462 under the public sector and 2,593 under the private sector.
The slogan "Sabko Vaccine, Muft Vaccine" thus does not hold true. On September 17, the day that India clocked the highest number of vaccine doses given on a single day, there were over 3,449 private vaccination sites in the country. Even though the number of public vaccination sites stood at 1,06,928 they were skewed across states. In total, there were at least 1,10, 387 active vaccination sites across the country.
With such a large number of public health centres providing vaccines, it also becomes important to know the number of vaccines allocated to each centre. Citizens across the country had raised complaints when they failed to secure a free vaccination slot on Cowin due to scarce availability. Even under the walk-in system, there is no assurance of receiving the vaccine on the specific day as centres run out of shots. This has forced many citizens to opt for private centres by paying the fee rather than wait for a free vaccine.
An RTI reply shows that only a handful of States like Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala are actually seeing private hospitals procure more than 25 per cent of the vaccines but overall the private sector has purchased only 10 per cent of the vaccines. There have been debates about whether the Centre should reduce the percentage for the private sector and the Ministry has said that they will deliberate on the same.
The government always spoke about vaccines being completely free for health and frontline workers. For election-bound states, the government spoke about free vaccines. Yet, states like Bihar also have private centres distributing the COVID-19 vaccines.
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