From Shortage to Withdrawal of Over 41k Unused Covid Shots: A Look at Punjab's 'Vaccine Scam' Events

·6-min read

As the Punjab government is buckling under the alleged "vaccine scam" levelled by the opposition in the state, the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress dispensation on Saturday said that only 600 out of 42,000 vaccine doses 'sold' to private hospitals had been administered by the hospitals, so far. The remaining 41,400 vaccines will now be taken back from them.

Congress leader Jaiveer Shergill on Saturday morning attacked the Centre, referring to the Punjab government’s order cancelling vaccine supply to private hospitals and recalling the stocks, over faulty ventilators supplied to states and demanded an apology.

"Now, when will Central Govt recall faulty ventilators supplied to States, apologise & give refund to donors of PMCare Fund? BJP must learn diff b/w preaching & practising accountability," he wrote on Twitter.

On Friday, CM Singh intervened into the matter and withdraw its order of diverting its vaccine stocks to private hospitals at a marked-up price. The latest order said the earlier decision was "not taken in the right spirit".

Meanwhile, the Centre has sought a report from the Punjab government over reports that claimed diversion of 40,000 doses of Covaxin it had procured for Rs 400 last month to private hospitals at a 165% higher price of Rs 1,060, thereby making a profit of Rs 660 on each dose, which translates to over Rs 2.5 crore.

Chronology of Events

June 2 – On Wednesday, Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu directed all civil surgeons to ensure private hospitals display Covid treatment charges, a move aimed at preventing overcharging by these health facilities. Sidhu also said that no private hospital can charge more than the notified treatment costs.

If anyone is charged more than the government notified costs, such a person can raise a complaint with the deputy commissioner or civil Surgeon concerned, he said in an official release. The state government has already issued instructions to district administrations in this regard.

The health minister said it has been brought to his notice that even after directions issued by the government, some hospitals have overcharged COVID-19 patients. He said taking notice of such incidents, FIRs have been registered against these hospitals under Epidemic Diseases Act and Disaster Management Act. Sidhu appreciated the civil surgeons who took prompt action on the complaints, after which many private hospitals refunded money to patients’ families.

June 3 – Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Badal on Thursday demanded a high court monitored probe into the manner in which the Congress government in Punjab was playing with the people’s lives by creating an artificial shortage of vaccines by selling vaccine doses at a hefty profit to private hospitals.

The SAD president told the media here that a case should be registered against Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu for diverting vaccines meant for the common man to private institutions even as he averred that the issue had the makings of a major scam.

He said the scandal had also exposed Congress leader Rahul Gandhi who had recently demanded free vaccines for all.

“Rahul Gandhi should say if he supports the Punjab government’s move to force the common man to pay Rs 1,560 per dose.”

June 4 – Under flak from the opposition for “diverting” Covid vaccines to private hospitals to make a profit, 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 Centre has sought a clarification from the Punjab government following media reports alleging that it “sold” COVID-19 vaccine to private hospitals and “earned a profit”. Prima facie, it is in clear violation of the Liberalized Pricing and Accelerated National COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy, said Additional Secretary in the Health Ministry Vandana Gurnani to the principal secretary of the Punjab government’s Health Department.

The Centre too wrote to the state government, seeking a clarification over reports that it sold Covaxin to private hospitals and earned a profit. Earlier in the day, Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said he has ordered a probe into the allegations.

And hours later, the state government issued the new order, withdrawing one-time instructions to private hospitals to vaccinate people in the 18-44 years category. Now, the recalled vaccine doses will be administered free to this age group by the government, the minister told the media.

The order of providing one-time limited vaccine doses to 18-44 years age group population through private hospitals has not been taken in the right spirit and is hereby withdrawn, the new 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. The minister said about 42,000 doses had been allotted to private hospitals, and they have administered only 600 of them so far. He said instruction has been issued to all civil surgeons not make any fresh allotment to them.

Private hospitals will now get direct supplies of vaccination from the manufacturers. The amount deposited by them in the vaccine fund will be refunded by the government. Till late evening, however, the Punjab government had not responded to the charge that it made a profit when it allotted the vaccine stocks to private hospitals.

BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh alleged that the state government sold 40,000 Covaxin doses at Rs 1,060 each out of the 1.14 lakh it received last month for Rs 420 each from the Centre. He claimed these were sold to 20 private hospitals, which in turn sold them for Rs 1,560 per dose.

June 5 – The Punjab government said that it will take back 41,400 doses from private hospitals as only 600 out of 42,000 vaccine doses 'sold' to private hospitals had been administered by the hospitals so far.

Meanwhile, amid the fiasco over vaccine "loot" in Punjab, Congress shot a letter to the Centre over the "the insufficient supply and varying prices of vaccines"

"Vaccination is the only protection in the midst of the raging Covid-19 pandemic. Modi Government’s vaccination strategy has been a dangerous cocktail of blunders and bloopers". It also emphasized, "the need of the hour is that Union BJP Govt should procure the vaccine and supply for free to the States and private hospitals for vaccinating the people of India. Anything less is a huge disservice to India and its people," the Congress letter read.

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