Center clears COVID vaccines for anyone over 18, but price will be set by private players

New Delhi: Following a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, days after a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in the country, the Center announced that all people over 18 will be eligible to receive vaccines against COVID-19 from May 1.

The previous age limit was 45. But the new policy comes at a price: vaccine manufacturers and private vaccine suppliers will be able to set their own price for half of their production. And the government has not specified a ceiling.

Here is what the press release from the Ministry of Health says:

“Manufacturers would transparently pre-declare the price of 50% of the supply that would be available to state governments. and on the open market, before 1st May 2021. Based on this award, state governments, priHospitals, industrial establishments, etc., could obtain vaccine doses from manufacturers. Private hospitals are expected to source Covid-19 vaccine exclusively from the 50% supply intended for non-government. from India channel. Private immunization providers should transparently declare their self-set vaccination price. Eligibility through this channel would be open to all adults, i.e. anyone over the age of 18.

The Center also said that vaccine procurement, eligibility and administration are made flexible in Phase 3 of India’s vaccination campaign.

Vaccine makers will now be allowed to release up to 50% of their supply to state governments and into the open market at a pre-declared price, the government said.

States, too, are now urged to “obtain additional doses of vaccine directly from manufacturers.”

The pre-declaration of the 50% offer price that would be available to state governments and on the open market must be made by May 1, 2021, the official statement from the Union Health Ministry said.

Private hospitals are expected to source COVID-19 vaccine exclusively from the 50 percent supply reserved for entities other than those passing through the central government channel.

“Private vaccination providers should transparently declare their self-determined vaccination price and eligibility through this channel would be open to all adults, that is, to anyone over the age of 18,” the statement added.

In addition to a public interest dispute in the Supreme Court, which argued for lowering the minimum age for vaccines, several state governments led by parties opposing the Bharatiya Janata party have written in recent days at the Center and the Prime Minister, asking for the expansion of the vaccination campaign.

A day ago, on April 18, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the COVID-19 crisis, stressing that scaling up immunization was the key to tackling the pandemic.

Several experts, including epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee, who also spoke with the Wire, noted that India had to act on vaccination when the cases of COVID-19 were in the “valley”, that is to say before the surge in the number of cases.

In the meantime, the vaccine rollout process in India has also seen setbacks in the form of shortages, which has led centers across the country to stop vaccinating people.

“The total production capacity of the makers of Covishield and Covaxin, the two local players, is around 24 lakh of vaccine per day. The current demand is 37 lakh of vaccines per day ”, the Wire noted in an April 10 analysis. Along with commitments to the global immunization center, COVAX, India also continues to face growing demand for vaccines.

In the Centre’s latest decision, manufacturers were further “encouraged to further increase production and attract new national and international players,” the Center said.

The Centre’s vaccination campaign, he noted, will continue as before. Within it, free vaccines will be provided to “essential and priority populations as defined previously”, including health workers, frontline workers and people over 45 years of age.

All vaccinations will be carried out as part of the liberalized and accelerated phase 3 strategy of the national COVID-19 vaccination program and will have to follow all protocols such as capture on the CoWIN platform, related to AEFI notification and to all other prescribed standards, the government said. The stocks and the price per vaccination applicable in all the vaccination centers will also have to be declared in real time.

The division of vaccine supply – 50% to the Center and 50% to other channels would apply uniformly to all vaccines produced in the country.

“The Indian government, on its part, will allocate vaccines to states and UTs based on criteria of extent of infection (number of active COVID cases) and performance (speed of administration). Vaccine wastage will also be taken into account in this criterion and will negatively affect the criteria. Based on the above criteria, state quotas would be decided and communicated to states adequately in advance, ”the statement said.

The second dose of all existing priority groups – healthcare workers, frontline workers and population over 45, wherever due, would be given priority, for which a specific and targeted strategy would be communicated to all parties stakeholders.

The strategy will be reviewed from time to time.

Social media commentators concerns expressed as to whether this announcement signifies the Centre’s decision to withdraw from the pricing and allocation process and the consequences that such a decision may have.

(With PTI inputs)