India's largest health care chain expects a private market for Covid-19 vaccines to open up across the country within weeks, a move that may boost current government efforts to inoculate 300 million people by August.
Apollo Hospitals Enterprises is working with the government to provide vaccines for front line workers at 27 centers as part of the nationwide vaccination drive. The operator has trained 6,000 people and designated 3,500 sites for an expansion of the inoculation campaign, according to Managing Director Suneeta Reddy.
"Our expectation is maybe March," she said in an interview Wednesday on Bloomberg Television. "We have the advantage of so much of the manufacturing happening in India, so there will be vaccinations available unlike in a lot of other countries. There is great potential to cover many more people."
About 8.6 million people in India have gotten their first dose of vaccine since the inoculation drive began a month ago. At the current pace, the country will fall short of its target of reaching about a quarter of its population by August. Even though the rate of infection has dramatically fallen in the past five months, vaccination delays risk leaving the door open to a second wave and new strains of the virus.
The government plans to give first priority for shots to 30 million health care and front line workers. The second phase includes people over age 50 or at particular risk to Covid, an estimated 270 million in total. Last year, Apollo began telling its clients via its digital app that it's ready to administer 1 million vaccine doses a day and customers will "be the first ones to know" when vaccines are ready.
"I believe it's achievable, but I do believe public and private have to work together," Ms Reddy said. "We can exceed those numbers -- if we do achieve these vaccination goals, India will be well prepared for the second wave."
As a vaccine manufacturing powerhouse, many of India's developers are also eager to recoup their costs in the private market. The Serum Institute of India, which has a license to churn out 1 billion doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, has stated it plans to sell those shots for about five times what it charged the government.
Apollo is also waiting for a further resumption of flights to resuscitate medical tourism, which accounted for about 10% of the firm's revenue. The business is slowly beginning to pick up, mainly drawing from neighboring nations, Ms Reddy said, adding that local demand has made up some of the shortfall and bed occupancy is at 63%, close to pre-pandemic levels.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)