Karnataka: Row erupts after vaccine distribution favours private players

MP Tejasvi Surya landed in trouble after promoting a paid Covid vaccination drive at a private hospital in Bengaluru

Tejasvi Surya
Surya’s efforts to promote a paid vaccination drive drew criticism from various quarters

The vaccine distribution in Karnataka, particularly in Bengaluru, seems to be skewed towards private players.

For instance, 23 of the 25 centres which opened up vaccine slots for the age group 18-44 between 29 May and June 4, were for private Hospitals. The state is providing the first dose of the vaccine only to frontline workers in the 18-44 age group to conserve stock for second doses. But first doses are available for the said age group in the private sector.

Besides, from Member of Parliament Tejasvi Surya to Health Minister K Sudhakar, most leaders have been endorsing vaccine distribution at private hospitals despite people, with booked slots, waiting at public health centres and government hospitals, and most returning empty-handed.

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Surya landed in trouble after promoting a paid Covid vaccination drive at Vasavi Hospital in Bengaluru. The banners carried promos of Surya endorsing it and mentioned Rs 900 as the charge.

Usually, charges for the Covishield vaccine at many places were fixed at Rs 850. Despite an advisory, several private hospitals flouted the norms saying the cost of storage and distribution was higher. But several hospitals charged up to Rs 1,000 for the same vaccine. And Covaxin was priced up to Rs 1250.

Surya’s office did not respond to reports of overpricing and skewed distribution of vaccines. His action to promote a paid vaccination drive drew criticism from various quarters.

On Saturday, a social activist filed a complaint against MLA Ravi Subramanya, Surya’s uncle, based on an audiotape in which the hospital staff from AV Hospital in his constituency (Basavanagudi) told him that they have to pay Subramanya Rs 700 so they cannot reduce the vaccine cost. The hospital staff asked him to go to a government hospital if he cannot afford to pay.

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“Allegations against BJP MLA Ravi Subramanya of taking a commission for vaccines is a serious one. MP Tejasvi Surya has been promoting paid vaccination in private hospitals. A suo-motu FIR should be filed, HC must monitor the probe and they should be disqualified by the speaker,” Congress leader D K Shivakumar tweeted.

Subramanya stormed the hospital later in the evening to check and the hospital staff actually said so. In the video that was floating on social media, the hospital staff were in denial. Subramanya could not be reached for comments.

As for the vaccine supply, 50 per cent will be procured and distributed at states, which in turn will have to use it for free vaccination. In the remaining 50%, state governments can directly procure 25% from manufacturers/suppliers (again for free distribution). The remaining 25% can be utilized by private hospitals and private agencies by directly procuring from manufacturers.

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In Karnataka, it’s learnt that private players got a higher share than the prescribed limit.

The indifference was also taken up by the Karnataka High Court, which questioned the state and Centre how private entities received a higher share than the prescribed 25% allotment. The state’s counsel argued Karnataka received excess doses (18,000) as private parties did not avail the full quota of 25% in other states like Bihar and that was made available to Karnataka.

The Court asked them to file a written response by next week noting that it was necessary for both Central and state governments to take note of the situation in the context of Article 14 of the Constitution of India that ensures equality before the law.

Meanwhile, the opposition Congress attacked the BJP-led government over inequitable vaccine distribution where private hospitals had enough stock for paid vaccinations but government centres were running dry. He also asked the state if they would take action against Tejaswi Surya for selling vaccine with inflated charges. Congress leader Siddaramaiah accused the health minister of promoting private hospitals instead of ensuring vaccine availability in government hospitals and asked if Sudhakar was a health Minister or the brand ambassador of a private hospital.

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