NEW DELHI: In a big step to accelerate the pace of vaccination, the Centre on Monday permitted anyone above 18 to receive anti-Covid shots from May 1, opening options for states, hospital chains as well as corporate houses to procure and vaccinate all eligible recipients.
The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by PM Narendra Modi, which noted that satisfactory coverage of vulnerable groups currently eligible for vaccination was expected by April 30, setting the stage for a more liberalised approach to inoculation against Covid-19 in terms of pricing as well as age-determined eligibility.
Pharma companies manufacturing in India will be free to sell 50% of their production to states and hospital chains at a pre-fixed price for vaccination of people above 18 outside the central programme.
States will be free to decide the age bar for any category of people above 18 (for example a particular state may adopt the 18-plus norm or set an age bar of its choosing). Meanwhile, the central programme of vaccinating all above 45 will continue with the shots given for free in government hospitals.
States and hospital chains will be allowed to procure vaccines directly from manufacturers and even contract them from abroad from candidates that are approved for use by the Centre under its recently announced policy where shots approved by well-known regulators like FDA and MHRA or those listed with the WHO can be given emergency approval in India.
The three streams of vaccinations will mean that shots being delivered by private hospital chains will be costlier than the current Rs 250 rate. Vaccines procured and delivered by states will be priced by the respective administrations. The effort, keeping in mind a plateauing and a dip in daily vaccination, is to boost the pace of inoculation by liberalising procurement and widening eligibility.
India has administered 12.69 crore doses since the rollout of the vaccination drive on January 16 with prioritisation of health and frontline workers in the first phase, followed by those above 60 and then 45-plus in subsequent phases.
The revised norms create a role for private hospitals or vaccination providers as they are seen as being critical to the success of the effort to inoculate the population as quickly as possible. Vaccine manufacturers will be asked to pre-set a price for the shots which will then be applicable for all buyers in the private sector.
Vaccine makers will have to transparently make an advance declaration of the price for 50% supply that would be available to state governments and in the open market before May 1, the government said. Based on this price, state governments, private hospitals and even industrial or corporate establishments will be able to procure vaccine doses.
From its share, the Centre will allocate vaccines to states and UTs based on criteria of extent of infection (number of active Covid cases) and performance (speed of vaccination). A state’s record of wastage of vaccines will also be a criterion and will affect supplies negatively. Based on such criteria, state-wise quota will be decided.
India’s vaccine production is expected to increase substantially over the next few months with Serum Institute of India expected to increase production to nearly 100 million next month against a monthly capacity to produce 60-70 million doses at present. SII is likely to ramp up its capacity further by August.
The production capacity of locally developed vaccine Covaxin will be doubled by May-June and then increased nearly 6-7 fold by July-August. It is expected to reach nearly 10 crore doses per month by September from 1 crore in April. The government has drawn up an augmentation plan which will be implemented through expansion of capacity at Bharat Biotech as well as public sector manufacturing units.
Besides, imported vaccines are likely to be available in the open market soon.