Found selling Covaxin to pvt hospitals, Punjab govt now wants doses returned

The government had made a profit of Rs 5.28 crore — buying the vaccines for Rs 3.20 crore, and selling them for Rs 8.48 crore.

Cornered over selling Covid vaccines to private hospitals at a profit, the Punjab government on Friday ordered that the doses be returned with immediate effect.

The government had sold 42,000 doses of Covaxin — out of the 1.14 lakh it bought on May 27 from Bharat Biotech at Rs 420 per dose — to over 20 private hospitals for Rs 1,060 each. The hospitals had, in turn, charged recipients Rs 1,560 for a dose.

The government had thus made a profit of Rs 5.28 crore — buying the vaccines for Rs 3.20 crore, and selling them for Rs 8.48 crore.

As the issue snowballed into a controversy, Nodal Officer for Vaccination Vikas Garg issued an order asking private hospitals to return the vaccines. “The order providing one-time limited vaccine doses to 18-44 years age group population through private hospitals has not been taken in the right spirit, and is hereby withdrawn. Further, it has been decided that the private hospitals should return forthwith all the vaccine doses available with them…”

Reacting to the controversy, Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu told The Indian Express, “Sometimes wrong decisions are taken without any wrong intent. We will probe the matter.” He said the amount deposited by the private hospitals for the vaccines would be refunded to them.

Sidhu said that out of the 42,000 doses that the government gave to private hospitals, 600 vaccines had been administered by the time the government issued its recall order. “The remaining 41,400 vaccines will reach us by today evening and tomorrow morning,” he said, adding that these vaccines will now be administered free of cost to those in the 18-44 age group at government vaccination centres.

The 42,000 vaccines were part of the state’s quota for those in the 18-44 age group with co-morbidities, for construction workers and families of government healthcare workers.

Government vaccination centres had, citing vaccine shortage, opened vaccination in the 18-44 age group only for select priority groups.

The minister said private hospitals will now get direct vaccine supplies from manufacturers.

On May 15, Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan had tweeted, “#Privatehospitals Max Mohali and @fortis_hospital have procured vaccines & have begun #vaccinating 18-44 years in #Punjab. Max is charging Rs. 900 for covishield and Fortis Rs. 1250 for Covaxin. Please register on #CowinPortal to book a slot at these hospitals.”

Mahajan’s tweet had prompted SAD chief Sukhbir Badal to call her a “brand ambassador of private hospitals”.

On Friday, talking to the media, Sidhu said, “It was wrong for her to tweet about the vaccine availability in private hospitals.” He also said that he was not in the loop about the decision to provide the vaccines to private hospitals.

The vaccine row has put the government and the party, which is already battling internal fights, in a tighter spot. Minister of State Anurag Thakur and SAD chief Sukhbir Badal have already hit out at the government.

On Friday, Congress Rajya Sabha leader Partap Singh Bajwa wrote a letter to the CM, demanding a probe into the matter and calling it a “fraud on the people of Punjab”.

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