COVID-19 VACCINE inequality has been rampant across the Tricity with government stocks drying up and private hospitals raising cost prices by at least 50 per cent, leaving the underprivileged vulnerable to the deadly disease.
While Chandigarh, which had been vaccinating its populace at slow scale, waits for fresh stock, Panchkula which had taken a lead in the Tricity now struggles with low supplies resulting in a sudden and acute fall in vaccination numbers. Mohali, with meager supply, has only been vaccinating its vulnerable groups on priority- a step that Panchkula has also adopted now.
“There is a severe vaccine inequality marring the country right now. The poor automatically get cut off due to the digital divide, particularly those between in the 18-44 age group as it requires them to be tech savvy. They are the working population, who do not have the time or the patience to sit for hours on the application for a slot. Neither do they have the will, motivation or awareness to do so. This cuts them off from the process. The registration is in itself a bias as it favors the rich and literate,” said Kumol Abby, Professor of Sociology at Panjab University.
Both Mohali and Panchkula administrators, taking varied approaches, have stated that it is the underprivileged working groups living in rural belts and slums that require the vaccine as they possess a greater risk of contracting the virus. However, the UT administration is yet to adopt any measure to prioritise its slum populace.
As private hospitals step in to fill the void, the high prices keep most people away. While they procure Covishield at Rs 600 and Covaxin at Rs 1,200 directly from manufactures, the average cost they charge varies between Rs 900- Rs 1100 for Covishield and Rs 1250- Rs 1450 for Covaxin.
“This availability of vaccines in private and unavailability in public sector acts as a driving force behind this inequality. This is about public policy favouring those who have the means. The policy needs to be revised,” said Professor Abby.
Suggesting a solution for the issue, she said, “While I staunchly believe vaccine should be free for all, in view of current circumstances the least that can be done is to divide the income brackets and give it free of cost to people who can in no way pay for it. Let the urban areas get their vaccine from hospitals which charge what they do, but this should not mean ignoring those in the rural areas. Vaccines must be taken to them in equal numbers if not more.”
While Panchkula’s Cloudnine hospital- the only private hospital of district offering the vaccine and Chandigarh’s Bedi Hospital are charging Rs 900 for Covishield, Mohali’s Fortis Hospital, charges Rs 900 for Covishield and Rs 1250 for Covaxin. Mohali’s Indus hospital, administering Covaxin has priced it at Rs 1350.
Max hospital, Mohali, first in the Ttricity to begin paid doses, has increased prices for Covishield from Rs 900 to Rs 1,100 and that of Covaxin from Rs 1,350 to Rs 1,450 from June 4 onwards. The hospital has also set up walk in centres at various places, including one at Chandigarh Golf Club.
While Max did not respond to questions demanding the reason behind the price hike, doctors at the hospital state it is simple a supply-demand logistic. “The demand in the Tricity is very high as opposed to the supply which Max hospital is providing. Whenever this gap widens, costs rise,” explained a senior doctor.
“The poor people run the economy. While he upper class and middle class still have a choice to stay at home, the rural populace has to move out to earn their living. If you are not vaccinating them, you are denying them even a slim chance at surviving the pandemic. The unequal distribution is self-defeating,” added professor Abby.
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