Bengal is suffering from an acute vaccine crisis for about a week now. The government facilities have not started vaccination of those below 45 years as they do not have enough supply. Rather those centres are now giving priority to deliver the second shot. Only two big private hospitals have given first shot to those aged below 45 years yesterday, after acquiring the vaccine by their own initiative.
The crisis has two sides. First, the state has not got enough vaccine doses to administer it to the growing number of people, aged 45 or above, who are regularly thronging the facilities. It was creating chaos, and many of those whose second shot was due did not get it. Realising the gravity of the situation, the state health department decided to give priority to those whose second shot is due.
Secondly, the private facilities which are now supposed to buy the vaccine from the open market are not getting any supply at all. As the centre opened the vaccination for 18-45 years, it also declared that for these younger generations the vaccines will have to be bought. The private facilities have no clear idea how these can be bought and from where. Without any clear policy, the private facilities have failed to acquire vaccine, and have stopped delivering the second dose.
Rupak Barua, the president of the Association of Hospitals of Eastern India, said though all the government and private hospitals have sent requisition to Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute, they have not got any response yet. “But the government is trying to cooperate and we hope soon we will be able to start giving the second dose,” he added.
Meanwhile, CPI(M) leader Fuad Halim, a doctor by profession, has filed a public interest petition in the Calcutta High Court against the vaccination policy of the centre. It has questioned why there should be differential pricing for the centre, state and private buyers when public money was provided for the research and development of the vaccine.
Two private hospitals have been able to obtain some doses of Covaxin and had delivered those yesterday. A shot from these facilities cost 1,500 rupees. According to sources, the private facilities obtained a dose of 1,200 rupees, and are taking additional 300 rupees as infrastructural charge. Though the state government has promised free vaccination for all, it still is a far cry as the government does not have enough stock.
(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)