For many years, India has been one of the biggest producers and exporters of vaccines, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the country lost its pitch. With an immensely huge and scattered population of around 1.4 billion people, the liberalised vaccination strategy of the government is stumbling with not only the shortage of COVID-19 vaccines but also because of the wide difference in the prices of the vaccines that private sectors are charging for the shots.

Since the start of the vaccination drive, private sectors and hospitals were allowed to sell the vaccines at an affordable rate of Rs. 250, but with the liberalised phase, the cost of vaccines in the private sector has shot up by up to six times. As per various reports, amid the alarming shortage of vaccines in the country, India’s private hospitals are charging some of the steepest rates in the world for administering COVID-19 vaccines.

In regards to the data collected from the CoWIN website, it has been revealed that private hospitals in India are now charging between Rs. 700 to Rs. 1,500 per shot of COVID vaccine for people between the age group of 18 to 45. The price that is being charged for a single dose of vaccine by private hospitals is nearly six times the cost hospitals are charging to vaccinate people above the age of 45 years.

Differential pricing:

With the announcement of the liberalised Phase 3 of COVID-19 vaccinations, the only two manufacturers of COVID vaccine in India announced the price of their vaccines with Serum Institute of India (SII) fixing the price at Rs. 600 per dose of ‘Covishield’ for private hospitals, while the price of ‘Covaxin’ manufactured by Bharat Biotech was fixed at Rs. 1,200.

But now, it is being observed that because of the lack of clarity related to the prices of the vaccines, private hospitals now are charging people with prices higher than what was announced by the manufacturers originally. For Covishield manufactured by the SII, hospitals are charging between Rs. 700-900 while for one shot of Covaxin manufactured by Bharat Biotech, the cost goes up to Rs. 1,250-1,500.

According to the CoWIN website, Apollo, Max, Fortis and Manipal are the major four corporate hospital groups that are involved in the bulk of private-sector vaccination.

As per CoWIN portal, H N Reliance Hospital in Mumbai is charging Rs. 700 per dose for Covishield, that’s actually Rs. 100 more than the price at which the SII is offering the vaccine to private hospitals. A similar case was also observed with Nanavati Hospital in the city where the hospital has set a price of Rs. 900 for one shot of Covishield.

Apart from this, Apollo Hospitals and Fortis Healthcare were charging Rs. 1,250 on CoWIN for Covaxin produced by Bharat Biotech. These major hospital groups of India were charging Rs. 50 more than the actual price set by the manufacturer of the vaccine for the private market.

List of private hospitals and the cost of the vaccines. (Photo credit: Times of India)

The variation in the prices of the vaccines is affecting the transparency of the process. While it is also reported that some private sectors are even trying to monopolise the supply of COVID-19 vaccines to gain profits as some of these players have already received some stock of the vaccine before May 1.

Price control is a must:

Under Phase 3 of the national vaccination drive, the vaccine manufacturers were asked to supply 50 percent of their doses to the Central government and were free to distribute the remaining 50 percent doses between the state governments and in the open market. But recently, the inoculation led by private hospitals is leading towards a disparity in prices announced for the single dose of the vaccine by the manufacturers.

This difference in the prices offered by different private hospitals is a cause for concern and needs immediate attention of the government so that proper strategies could be build to control the prices of the vaccines in the country. Price control is a must by the government in order to avoid disparity and discrimination in the distribution of vaccines.