Punjab govt on back foot after hospitals over-charge for COVID shots

According to Akali Dal, the state procured each Covaxin dose for ₹420 and sold them to private hospitals for ₹1,060. The private hospitals, in turn, administered the doses at ₹1,560 each

Shriromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal called a press conference on Friday and sought a High Court inquiry into the 'scam'.

The Punjab government is under criticism for selling Covaxin doses to private hospitals at four times the rate at which it procured from the manufacturer. Under fire, the state government on Friday (June 4) withdrew an order allowing “one-time limited vaccine doses” to people in the 18-44 age group.

The Akali Dal has accused the Amarinder Singh government of “diverting” Covaxin doses at “hefty margins”.

As per reports, the Punjab government procured each dose for ₹420 and sold them to private hospitals for ₹1,060. The private hospitals, in turn, administered the doses to all adults at ₹1,560 each. The Centre too had sought an explanation from the state government about the brazen allocation of vaccines while Akali Dal leader president, Sukhbir Singh Badal, termed it as a “scam” and sought a High Court probe.

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Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu tried to shirk his responsibility by saying he does not have “control over vaccines”. “I just look over treatment, testing, sampling of COVID-19 and vaccination camps. We will definitely set an inquiry… I myself can enquire…,” Sidhu told news agency ANI.

Sukhbir Singh Badal claimed at a press briefing that vaccines were being diverted to private players at hefty margins to create an artificial shortage. He sought Health Minister Sidhu’s resignation.

It has been alleged that the vaccines sold to private hospitals were a part of the 1.14 lakh Covaxin doses which Punjab had received in May.

The hefty charge levied by private hospitals (Rs 1060 according to Badal) is against Punjab government’s decision to provide free vaccination to all in the 18-44 age group.

As of Friday (June 4), 39,65,219 people have received vaccine in Punjab whereas 7,84,099 of them have received the second dose as well.

Vikas Garg, the state-in-charge for COVID-19 vaccination, wrote a letter stating the government order “has not been taken in the right spirit and is hereby withdrawn”.

“It has been decided that the private hospitals should return forthwith all the vaccine doses available with them. The doses which they have utilised as of date should also be returned, once they get supplies from the manufacturers,” the order added.

The BJP too pulled up the Congress government for “selling COVID-19 vaccines to the public at a premium”. Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said: “It’s dangerous news. They (Punjab government) got over 1.40 lakh doses of Covaxin at Rs 400 each. They gave some of the vaccines to 20 private hospitals at Rs 1000 each. The state government wants to make a profit from the vaccination…What kind of government is it,” the minister asked.

The relations between the Centre and several states have been strained since the Modi government declared in April that it will bear only half the responsibility of providing vaccines to people in the 18-44 age group. The states have to purchase the rest from manufacturers directly.

Punjab has been at the forefront of states complaining of low vaccine stocks over the past few weeks.

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