Private hospitals have demanded 10 lakh doses of coronavirus vaccine from the government to carry out vaccination under private arrangements.
They came up with the demand when mass people, ministers, parliamentarians, diplomats and renowned public figures expressed satisfaction over the government's free vaccination campaign, which continues gaining pace every day.
Surprised by the private healthcare facilities' proposal, health experts fear the immunisation programme may get chaotic if the private facilities are allowed to conduct vaccination. The experts cited the scam-tainted Covid-19 testing at some private hospitals and advocated for cautionary measures so that such irregularities do not reoccur.
MA Mubin Khan, president of the Bangladesh Private Medical College Association, on Wednesday requested the health minister to include the private hospitals in the vaccination campaign.
"The government has 70 lakh doses in stock, while another 50 lakh will arrive next month. We will pay the price if the government initially gives us 10 lakh doses," he said.
Mubin Khan said affluent and rich people will take the shots at private hospitals. The government will fix the vaccination charge at private healthcare facilities. He also doubted whether it will be possible to administer the first dose to 35 lakh people by 7 March.
Professor Nazrul Islam, a noted virologist and also a member of the government's technical advisory committee on Covid-19, said the private sector now shows its interest as the vaccine does not show any severe side effect, and the vaccine turnout is on the rise.
"Their intension is to profit after joining the vaccination campaign," Professor Nazrul Islam told The Business Standard.
Professor Nazrul said the private sector could import vaccines and propose that the government buy the shots. "But demanding shots from government purchase is capricious. When people are getting free shots, and the public hospitals have the management capacity, why would I give it to them," he questioned.
He also expressed doubt the private sector will be able to maintain the vaccine cold chain.
Bangladesh has inoculated around 5.5 lakh people till Thursday – the fifth day of the countrywide vaccination campaign. Citing elaborate preparations, the government says it has the capacity to vaccinate more than 3.60 lakh people per day.
The country plans to immunise 35 lakh people in the first phase of the inoculation which will continue till 7 March.
Echoing Professor Nazrul, Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) Advisor Professor M Mushtaq Hussain said the private sector should not be tasked with massive public health issues like vaccination.
"Allowing private sector in vaccination will prompt discrimination, and it may hinder the overall inoculation. If the government decides to let them do it, they should not be allowed just now," he added.
Vaccine turnout tremendous
The health directorate said 204,540 people across the country got their first shots of Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine Thursday while the vaccine turnout was 158,451 on Wednesday.
Dr ASM Alamgir, principal scientific officer to IEDCR, said around 2 lakh people are getting registered for vaccination everyday.
"The current vaccine turnout is tremendous. With the momentum, we will be able to vaccinate 70 lakh people in just one month," he added.
Bangladesh rolled out the vaccination campaign on 7 February, and is carrying out the immunisation at 1,005 centres across the country. Except for the weekends, 2,400 teams are inoculating the citizens from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm every day.
Same old overcharging trick?
Wishing anonymity, a health directorate official told TBS that said that private hospitals are charging Tk3,500 to Tk5,000 for vaccines to children under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI).
"The government administers the EPI vaccines at vaccination centres for free. The hospitals collect the shots from the government for free, and charge their clients in the name of service charges," said the official.
The official thinks the private healthcare facilities will do the same if they are allowed to join Covid vaccination. "The private hospitals will charge people at least Tk1,500 for a single dose," claimed the official.
Minister for allowing them in
Asked if private hospitals would be allowed for vaccination, Health Minister Zahid Maleque told the press Thursday that they would allow private hospitals for the vaccination.
"They [private hospitals] will buy vaccines from the government. The prime minister has also approved. We will give them some doses, not too much. Only the reputed hospitals will get it."
"If some people go there, then the pressure on us will reduce. We will fix the price," the minister said.
Asked if the private hospitals will get more than 10 lakh doses, the minister said, "Let us see what happens. While we will have to immunise several crores of people, 10 lakh doses are almost nothing."
According to the health directorate, more than 12.37 lakh people have registered for the vaccine as of 7:30pm on Thursday.