Centre’s New Covid Vaccination Guidelines Allows Walk-In For All And E-Vouchers
The central government's new Covid-19 vaccine policy guidelines centralise procurement and gives states flexibility on vaccine prioritisation as well as some operational matters. They all also permit online and on-site registration. E-vouchers have been introduced for those who want to sponsor vaccination for others at private hospitals.
The guidelines come a day after Prime Minister Modi announced a reversal of the earlier policy that mandated states procure vaccines for 18- to 44-year-olds while the centre would supply free vaccines for those above 45 years, frontline and healthcare workers.
Starting June 21, the centre will procure 75% of all domestically produced vaccines and allocate them to states free. States will in turn administer them free to all eligible citizens. 25% of domestic production will be made available via private hospitals that can now charge only up to Rs 150 per dose as service charge additional to cost of vaccine.
Some private hospitals have said this charge will not cover costs for off-site vaccination camps. "We urge the government to consider a higher charge for off-site vaccination camps to enable expanded coverage as the cap of service charge at Rs 150 will not cover additional costs incurred for off-site vaccination camps which involve costs like ambulance, transport, and other costs," said a Fortis Hospitals statement as reported by ANI.
Key Features Of Revised Guidelines
1. Within the eligible population of 18 years and above, priority will be give to
- Healthcare Workers
- Front Line Workers
- Citizens more than 45 years of age
- Citizens whose second dose has become due
- Citizens 18 years and above
2. Vaccine doses will be allocated by the centre to states based on criteria similar to earlier policies — such as population, disease burden and progress of vaccination. Wastage of vaccine will affect the allocation negatively.
3. States can continue to decide their own prioritisation for those above 18 years. The centre will provide states advance information on vaccine supply.
4. States to aggregate demand of private hospitals basis equitable distribution between large/small private hospitals and regional balance. The centre will facilitate vaccine supply to private hospitals and payment through the National Health Authority’s electronic platform.
5. All government and private centres will provide pre-booking online and onsite registration for individuals and groups. So far, for the younger cohort only online booking was available making vaccination difficult for those with no access to CoWin, the government registration site. Procedure for on-site registration will now be decided by states and published in advance. States may also use common service centres and call centres to facilitate prior booking.
6. Non-transferable electronic vouchers that can be redeemed at private vaccination centers will be available for those who want to support vaccination for others.
Curiously, there is no mention of imported vaccine procurement or allocation in the revised guidelines. As per the phase 3 policy that became effective on May 1, states and private hospitals could procure imported vaccines at their own cost. That has been difficult on account of global short supply as well as foreign vaccine companies preferring to negotiate with the centre, on pricing and indemnities, than several individual states.
The new policy and guidelines come just days after the Supreme Court of India expressed its reservations on the earlier vaccine procurement and registration process and directed the centre to review it. The top court had described the centre's vaccination policy as "arbitrary and irrational".
The key concerns expressed by the bench of Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice S Ravindra Bhat were;
- Differential vaccine pricing for centre and states.
- An online registration process that would deprive several people of access to vaccines.
- Concentration of supply of vaccines to private hospitals in urban areas.
- Prioritisation of vulnerable people in the 18-44 age group.
- Vaccine shortage and details on confirmed future supplies.
The June 2 order of the court posed several questions to the government and asked it to submit the vaccination policy document along with relevant files and documents which explain the thought process behind it. The top court granted two weeks to the government to file its response. The new vaccine policy and guidelines will address many of the concerns raised by the Supreme Court.