Private sector to step up Covid-19 vaccination drive in towns, villages

The private sector is planning to step up Covid vaccination drive — especially in towns and villages — with more vaccination camps and community engagement initiatives even as it is concerned about procurement and supply. Private hospitals have also seen a fall in demand for paid jabs, when the free option is available at government centres. With the government raising concerns over poor show by the private sector, in terms of the vaccination drive, companies believe they are doing their bit. However, many feel the government is better equipped in reaching out to the hinterla.....
The private sector is planning to step up Covid vaccination drive — especially in towns and villages — with more vaccination camps and community engagement initiatives even as it is concerned about procurement and supply.

Private hospitals have also seen a fall in demand for paid jabs, when the free option is available at government centres. With the government raising concerns over poor show by the private sector, in terms of the vaccination drive, companies believe they are doing their bit. However, many feel the government is better equipped in reaching out to the hinterland, especially to tackle vaccine hesitancy challenges.

Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal recently said that business groups had made promises about going to the hinterland and delivering crores of jabs, but failed to deliver.

“Nobody has gone to Bihar, Northeast, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh to run campaigns to remove vaccine hesitancy and use up that 25 per cent quota,” the minister said during the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)-Horasis India meeting. As part of the pan-Indian vaccine demand aggregation exercise, CII had collated corporate demand in 196 cities from over 3,000 companies that adds up to around over 7 million vaccine doses.

“To further scale up efforts of the on-going vaccination drive, CII is now mapping vaccination, state and district-wise. It will now set up vaccination camps along with its members in tier two and three cities as well as rural areas,” a CII spokesperson said. 

CII has placed orders for about 10 million vaccine doses. “Through the direct 430 vaccine camps done, we have given jabs to 3.4 million in June-July alone,” the CII spokesperson added.

A Reliance Industries (RIL) spokesperson said the company has done 1 million vaccinations for its employees and dependents. “Our definition of dependents is very liberal, and apart from family members, we have also vaccinated house-helps and drivers of our employees,” the spokesperson said.

The company is soon starting the community outreach programme from Monday where it targets to do 1 million vaccinations too. “This would start from Mumbai and can be done in areas where we have a strong presence. We already have 171 vaccine centres (through partnerships or our own presence) across India,” he added. RIL is also considering opening this infrastructure to any entity that approaches it for vaccination, at a cost.

The Tata group, too, has vaccinated most of its employees and their families. “Many of our employees, for example in TCS, have gone back to their hometowns. We have ensured that we arrange vaccinations in their cities,” a company spokesperson said. 

Another senior executive in a major conglomerate said there were issues with procurement and capping the administration charges at ~250 in the private hospitals.

“Only hospitals can procure vaccines by placing orders. At places where we do not have our own hospitals, we have to tie up with local vaccinators (other hospitals) to do the drive,” the executive said.

There is, however, the problem of demand for private vaccinations. “For Covaxin doses, one would have to shell out as much as ~14,000 for a family of five. Why would a middle- class person come to a private hospital to get immunised?” said the managing director of a leading hospital chain.

Joy Chakraborty, chief operating officer (COO), Hinduja Hospital and chairman, healthcare committee, CII (Western region) pointed out that there is a tendency among people to go to government centres for free vaccination. He added that private players are trying to ramp up and procure more doses.

A leading private hospital chain said it is also doing campaigns on television and social media to address vaccine hesitancy. “Beyond this, there is nothing much that one can do to reduce vaccine hesitancy in the hinterland. The government has a better shot at that,” the hospital’s top executive said.  

Hospitals also pointed out that the fall in demand for the second dose is also due to the increased gap of three months for the Covishield vaccine. A senior executive of a south-based private hospital chain said that the coverage is higher in urban centres, and the demand now is more in rural areas, leading to a demand-supply mismatch. 

Some private hospital chains are holding vaccination camps in villages and campaigning against hesitancy. Apollo Hospitals group, for instance, has undertaken vaccinations in villages of Andhra Pradesh and the hinterlands of Tamil Nadu. Till the end of June, the healthcare major claimed to have administered 2.1 million vaccine doses in the country, making it the largest private sector vaccinator.

Private hospitals had earlier flagged shortage of fresh stocks, less demand for paid vaccines, and in some cases, no allocation by the state as reasons behind the poor offtake. While many big hospital chains were sustaining vaccination on the leftover stock from previous orders, smaller hospitals have been unable to access vaccines through any of the available channels.


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