Punjab govt buckles under 'vaccine scam' charge, asks pvt hospitals to return stock

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Chandigarh, Jun 4 (PTI) Under flak from the opposition for 'diverting' Covid vaccines to private hospitals, the Punjab government on Friday asked them to return all stock meant for the 18-44 age group.

The dramatic turnabout came after opposition parties – Shiromani Akali Dal, Aam Aadmi Party and Bharatiya Janata Party –- slammed the Congress government for “selling” to private hospitals doses meant to be administered free.

“The order of providing one-time limited vaccine dose to 18-44 years age group population through private hospitals has not been taken in the right spirit and is hereby withdrawn,” the government note said.

“Further, it has been decided that the private hospitals should return forthwith all the vaccine doses available with them,” Vikas Garg, who is in charge of Punjab’s Covid vaccination programme, said in the order.

Once they get their own direct supplies from the manufacturers, the private hospitals will also return to the state government the doses they have already used up.

Hours before the development Friday evening, state Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said he has ordered a probe into the allegations.

Sidhu stressed that his own health department was not concerned with the procurement or distribution of the vaccine. His department was involved in conducting coronavirus tests, treatment and administering the vaccine, he told reporters.

He said the vaccine supply made available to his department is administered free of cost at government hospitals and the camps held by it.

But SAD, which had on Thursday accused the Amarinder Singh government of “diverting” Covid vaccines to private hospitals at “hefty margins”, continued its attack.

“The health minister should resign immediately. He cannot escape responsibility,” SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal said.

The BJP demanded action by the Centre against the state government.

The AAP called it a “vaccine scam” and alluding to remarks made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in another context said this was a true case of turning adversity into opportunity.

AAP leader Raghav Chadha alleged that the government did not administer free the vaccine doses received under the state’s quota but sold them off to private hospitals, making “hefty profits”.

“This is a scam of thousands of crores,” he alleged.

“We had heard that state governments generate funds to buy vaccines, but in Punjab the state government is generating funds from vaccines,” he told reporters.

He said the health minister cannot evade responsibility.

Chadha said people now have to cough up Rs 3,100 for two doses of Covid vaccine at private facilities when they should be getting them free.

“The Congress is busy with its infighting, they are not bothered about people's welfare,” he charged.

“The government itself is on ventilator now and they have realized that they are not coming back to power, and that's why they are indulging in as much looting as they can,” he said.

BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh said a criminal case should be registered against all those involved in the “vaccine scam” under which the vaccine provided by the Centre for the poor, working class was “sold” at “commercial rates” to private hospitals.

They, in turn, “made huge money out of it at the cost of the poor and the needy people”, his statement said.

He alleged that the state government “sold” 40,000 Covaxin doses at Rs 1,060 each out of the 1.14 lakh doses it received last month from the Centre for Rs 420 each.

He claimed these were sold to 20 private hospitals, which in turn sold them for Rs 1,560 per dose.

All this has been happening when Punjab last month recorded among the highest fatality rates in the country, the BJP leader said and demanded that the Centre should take action against the state government.

Chugh said it was “pure black marketing” by the state government. PTI SUN VSD RAX ASH ASH

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