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Vaccine cost, hesitancy: What doctors think is sending fewer people to private hospitals

Doctors say there needs to be more awareness about taking vaccinations as a lax attitude and uncertainty about availability is contributing to a lower footfall in private hospitals.

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New Delhi: India’s total vaccination coverage surpassed 5 crore doses Thursday, with more than 23 lakh doses given in the last 24 hours. However, the participation of private hospitals remains sub-par.

The data shared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare during a press briefing Wednesday revealed that the percentage of doses administered in private hospitals in some states is as low as 19.76 per cent (Uttarakhand), 21.24 per cent (Haryana) and 26.79 per cent (Madhya Pradesh).

Telangana (49.84 per cent), Delhi (46.3 per cent) and Punjab (38.48) have seen a slightly higher percentage of private participation in vaccination compared to others.

A report released earlier this month also showed that the government hospitals were administering over 71 per cent of the doses.

In phase one of the drive, private hospitals only served as vaccination centres, with the government procuring the doses. Earlier this month, all such hospitals that meet the requirement were allowed to vaccinate people. The price for the vaccine is capped at Rs 250, of which Rs 150 is the vaccine charge and Rs 100 is the service charge that go to the hospitals.

Also read: 88% Covid deaths in 45+ age group, govt says day after decision to open up vaccination

Price point, vaccine hesitancy 

While the exact reason for the low participation of the private sector is not known yet, many doctors ThePrint spoke to said it could be due to general vaccine hesitancy, or simply because one needs to pay for the shot that government facilities are administering for free.

Bharat Gadhvi, regional director at HCG Group of Hospitals in Gujarat and Rajasthan, also said said the low rate of percentage could be because of lack of awareness and lax attitude among people regarding the virus.

“Maybe people who thought Covid-19 was gone are the ones who also feel there is no need to take the vaccine. However, we are promoting it equally like government hospitals and Rs 250 is not a small amount for us,” he said.

“We have been seeing a footfall of around 300 to 400 patients every day in our hospital. We have dedicated an entire floor for the vaccination and people are satisfied with the services,” said Divyanu Gupta, the director of Sarvodya Hospital in Haryana’s Faridabad.

“One of the reasons private hospitals are experiencing low footfall as compared to government hospitals could be that the vaccine is available for free in the latter. However, in states like Delhi where more people prefer comfort over money, the footfall is higher,” he added.

Dr Rajashekar Y.L., secretary, The Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes’ Association (PHANA), Karnataka, said all private hospitals still do not have vaccine supply. People are not clear which hospitals have it or which don’t, and are turning to government hospitals, he said. “Pricing could be a reason too, so those who can afford, might also be going to government hospitals.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Rajashekar also pointed towards vaccine hesitancy. “Low footfall can also be tackled by opening more slots online. Currently in some hospitals, some slots are for online registration, some are open for walk-ins, while some for the second doses. Online registration gives people some confidence, otherwise they might not come thinking how crowded the hospital might be.”

Also read: States claim dearth of Covid vaccines, Centre says ‘no such fear, have ordered more doses’

Not about profit or loss, say hospitals

Despite the cap on pricing, hospitals are ready to participate in administering more vaccinations.

“Private hospitals are earning upto Rs 40-50 per vaccine, but there is a larger consensus on contributing to deal with the pandemic without seeing it as a profitable venture. We are happy to participate in more vaccination without thinking about profit or loss,” Rajashekar said.

Dr Bishnu Panigrahi, Group Head, Medical Strategy and Operations, Fortis Healthcare, agreed. “We are part of the same community. The more we vaccinate, the more everyone will be safer.”

He said he has not come across anyone “cribbing or complaining about the cap on the price on vaccination”.

“The cap of Rs 250 on each vaccine dose is also not a barrier because it is quite reasonable. It also gives us an opportunity to serve and helps us build goodwill with our patients,” said Gupta of Sarvodya Hospital.

Also read: Prioritise Covid vaccine supplies within India over exports, govt tells Serum & Bharat Biotech

‘Increase awareness, remove restrictions’

Several doctors and those involved in the private healthcare sector told ThePrint awareness should be raised to tackle vaccine hesitancy and restrictions should be done away with.

“The restrictions of age and comorbidities should soon be removed, as our capacity is going waste and those who want the vaccine are not getting it due to the age barrier. We are witnessing eagerness and a good amount of inquiry from people regarding the vaccine,” Dr Rajashekar told ThePrint.

Dr Anupam Sibal, Group Medical Director of Apollo Hospitals Group, said the data of low footfall in private hospitals could be dependent on many factors, including how many private hospitals are there in every state.

“No vaccine is 100 per cent efficient. Thus people think that if the effect of the vaccine will go away in 9 to 12 months, why should they take it. Some take the vaccine and think that they do not need to follow the safety measures like social distancing and masks, so we need to have a robust communication strategy to fight misinformation and vaccine hesitancy,” he added.

Dr Vinod Bhandari of Bhandari Hospital & Research Center and chairman of Shri Aurobindo Institute for Medical Sciences, Indore, claimed that the vaccination rate in private hospitals has been at par with the government hospitals in Indore.

Panigrahi also said they have not observed any decrease in the footfall in the last two weeks, adding that feedback from the beneficiaries regarding the process has also been good so far.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)

Also read: Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin production could go up 7 times with help from Karnataka, Gujarat labs

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