After Backlash, Punjab Government Cancels Sale Of Vaccines To Hospitals

Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has alleged doses purchased at Rs 400 were sold to private hospitals for Rs 1,060, and that these were then sold to people at Rs 1,560

The Akali Dal has alleged that 40,000 Covaxin doses had been sold for "hefty profits" (File)

New Delhi:

Punjab on Friday evening withdrew an order providing "one-time limited vaccine doses to 18-44 age group population through private hospitals", after allegations by the opposition Akali Dal - which accused the state of "diverting" Covaxin doses at "hefty margins" - sparked a row.

A brief letter - signed by Vikas Garg, the state-in-charge for COVID-19 vaccination - said the order "has not been taken in the right spirit and is hereby withdrawn".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. The doses which they have utilised as of date should also be returned, once they get supplies from the manufacturers," the order added.

The order also said the money deposited by the hospitals in the Vaccine Fund will be refunded.

Shortly before the order was withdrawn, the centre had written to the state, citing an NDTV report and asking it to "send clarification to MoHFW (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare) immediately".

Punjab Health Minister BS Sidhu earlier on Friday said 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...," Mr Sidhu told news agency ANI.

The Amarinder Singh government - dealing with a possible revolt ahead of next year's election - found itself at the centre of a storm Thursday after Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal said it had re-sold doses of Covaxin at "hefty margins".

Mr Badal said the doses had been purchased at Rs 400 per dose and sold to private hospitals for Rs 1,060 per dose. The hospitals then administered it to eligible beneficiaries at Rs 1,560 per dose.

He slammed the actions of an "immoral" Congress government, calling for a High Court-monitored probe and a case against Mr Sidhu.

The BJP - fiercely criticised by the Congress over the national coronavirus vaccination policy - has also hit out, with Union Minister Prakash Javadekar leading the charge this afternoon.

On Thursday junior Finance Minister Anurag Thakur also slammed the Punjab government; according to ANI he said they were showing a "callous attitude towards the people".

Punjab is among several states to have red-flagged low vaccine stocks over the past few weeks, as the country battles a devastating second wave of Covid infections and deaths.

Vaccine supplies have become a subject of heated dispute between the centre and several states, after many frequently suspended vaccination over the past few months citing a lack of doses, particularly for the 18-44 age group that has been hardest hit in the second wave.

Vaccines for this age group - unlike those over 45 - has not been provided free of cost, with the centre only providing 50 per cent of required doses. Under its new policy the rest has to be purchased by states and/or private hospitals directly from manufacturers.

The differential pricing - the centre pays Rs 150 per dose while Covaxin costs Rs 1,200 per dose for private hospitals - has triggered outrage, and led to the Supreme Court questioning the centre.

The Congress, in April, slammed this as "vaccine profiteering" on the part of the centre.

The centre has said it will vaccinate the whole country by the end of December, but the Supreme Court this week also asked several tough questions about how it plans to achieve that target.

With input from ANI