When all Indian adults became eligible for the Covid-19 vaccination on May 1, Postcard Hotels & Resorts, a boutique hotel chain, went into action to get their staff inoculated. The directors have discovered the country’s online booking platform, Co-win, to secure appointments. The hotel staff will take workers to clinics up to two hours away. The company paid for the inoculations, some of which cost as much as Rs1,300 (£ 13) per dose.
Within a week, 200 employees had received a first dose. “We did it as an army operation,” said Kapil Chopra, founder and general manager of the company. “I did it for the safety of my team, which is in line of fire.”
As India approaches a Covid-19 wave that has killed at least 140,000 people in two months, many are looking for vaccinations as protection against the high. infectious variants of Sars-Cov-2 which now circulates widely in the country.
But with scarce jabs, Wealthy citizens and powerful companies – and those who work for them – get easier access to vaccines, based on their ability to pay, their technological savviness and their connections to large private hospitals.
“This is India’s feudal system,” said Leena Menghaney, a public health lawyer. “The rich in India always have something first. He is very elitist. . . Those who have digital connections and tools, who are educated enough and smart enough to work the system, are able to get the vaccine. ”
India has administered 200m doses – or about 14 per 100 people – since mid-January, a slow pace compared to past vaccination campaigns. India recently inoculated 110m children against polio in just three days.
But India’s Covid-19 vaccination is limited by a severe shortage of vaccines, resulting from a failure to secure supplies due to a misunderstanding that the virus was under control. The Narendra Modi government made its first vaccination order only in January – and for only 16.5m doses.
“There was a feeling that this epidemic had been extinguished,” said Swarup Sarkar, a member of the Covid-19 working group of the Indian Council for Medical Research. “The need for vaccines was not felt.”
With limited vaccine stocks, India has initially given priority to those most vulnerable to severe Covid-19, based on age and health criteria. The government bought vaccines from two national producers, and administered them free of charge in public hospitals, or for Rs250 in private hospitals.
But as coronavirus cases – and the demand for vaccinations – developed last month, New Delhi has changed its course. Denying any shortages, the Modi government has opened up vaccination to all adults, promising a “liberalized and accelerated” inoculation strategy.
With this, New Delhi relinquished responsibility for vaccinating Indians under the age of 45, and told the states to procure blows for that cohort. It has also allowed vaccine producers to sell 25 percent of their production to private hospitals – at much higher prices.
Harsh Vardhan, the health minister, said the policy would “empower a large number of people to get vaccinated quickly” at their own expense. “Basically, those who can afford to get (jabs) at private and corporate sector rates will go ahead,” he added.
Today, private hospitals offer vaccination camps in corporate offices, factories, five-star hotels and elite residential areas, where Indians and wealthy businesses can pay around Rs1,700 for a single jab for themselves and their employees. .
Meanwhile, several government vaccination centers, which offer free jabs, are closed for lack of supplies. Government clinics in rural areas have been flooded with tech-savvy urban youth using the Co-win app to secure inoculations, while less sophisticated venues are being closed.
Experts say such favoring of the rich – instead of scientifically allocating scarce vaccines where they are most needed – will exacerbate existing social inequities and challenge public health principles.
“It’s a complete disaster,” said Murali Neelakantan, a former general counsel for Cipla, a large Indian pharmaceutical company. “There are no vaccines to give without a gift because the rich get them.” Nowhere else in the world can I justify any aspect of this. ”