Tamil Nadu's plan to mobilise companies' CSR funds towards procurement of vaccine doses got underway today with six companies contributing a total of Rs 2.27 crore towards purchasing 36,000 Covishield doses.
Daimler India Commercial Vehicles led the charge coughing up Rs 1 crore from its CSR kitty, followed by Saint Gobain India and ZF Wabco, each of whom contributed Rs 50 lakh from individual CSR funds. Bringing up the rear was CavinKare and Danfoss India — both made a contribution of Rs 10 lakh each. Chennai-based restaurant chain, Adyar Ananda Bhavan contributed a relatively smaller sum of Rs 7 lakh to buy vaccine doses.
Over a thousand people made a beeline at Kauvery Hospital in Chennai today, to get their first free COVID shot from a private hospital, thanks to the CSR-driven vaccine rollout inaugurated by state chief minister, MK Stalin. The hospital said it hopes to notch up similar numbers every day but will continue to roll out vaccines for paying customers, as well.
Procurement plan: 10 lakh doses in one month
On its part, the Tamil Nadu government said it hopes to make use of similar CSR contributions from other companies to procure a total of 10 lakh vaccine doses over the next month.
"The key objective is to vaccinate as many people and as soon as possible," said Dr Aravindan Selvaraj, co-founder and executive director, Kauvery Hospital, "There should not be any slackness. We are confident that we can mobilize these 10 lakh doses in the next one month."
As things stand, private hospitals and vaccine centres in Tamil Nadu account for less than 7 percent of the total number of vaccine shots administered in the state — an abysmal number given that 25 percent of all vaccine supplies are earmarked for the private sector.
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However, the state government’s plan to get companies to utilize CSR funds to procure vaccines will mean more than free COVID shots at private hospitals. It could also become an avenue to fully utilise the sector’s 25 percent vaccine quota.
Aside from waiving off administrative and service charges during the vaccine rollout, hospitals like Kauvery and MGM Healthcare also plan to set aside CSR funds to procure more vaccine doses and make use of the private sector quota.
Some believe that a more pronounced public-private partnership model will be required to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines — especially among smaller towns and suburbs.
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"The government and private sector will still have to work hand-in-hand to make this happen," said Harish Manian, CEO, MGM Healthcare, "I need to partner with nursing homes in the peripheries and roll out vaccinations in smaller towns as we try to try to inoculate more people in these locations."
Smaller hospitals overlooked?
Late last week, commerce minister Piyush Goyal criticised the private sector for not doing enough to buy vaccines and distribute them, despite clamouring for a role in India’s COVID-19 inoculation programme. However, a handful of smaller hospitals in Chennai say vaccine supplies are hard to come by for those centres with small order books.
"We are a 50-bed hospital but we want to be an active player in the community," said Dr Arun Kalyanasundaram, Director, Promed Hospital, Chennai, "But it’s been a herculean task for us to even get anyone (of the vaccine suppliers) to say ‘we are going to supply to you’."
Kalyanasundaram added, "We are willing to purchase; we are willing to do whatever it takes. But the numbers they’re talking about — it’s something that only a much bigger player can buy, and certainly not someone of our size."
There is no doubt that Tamil Nadu's experiment in using CSR funds to procure vaccines earmarked for private players and administering them as free doses, has kicked off to a good start.
The million-dollar question remains: will a sufficiently large number of companies agree to redirect CSR spending towards vaccine procurement? And even if they do, will this extra spending be enough to fully utilise the 25 percent vaccine quota earmarked for the private sector?