China’s state health insurance agency is apparently muddled whether it will cover the cost of COVID-19 shots for free alleging the higher cost of vaccinations as a reason for the dilemma.
While COVID-19 treatment is covered in the state health insurance plan, ‘preventive vaccines are not included,’ South China Morning Post reported.
The Chinese National Healthcare Security Administration said on Friday that the insurance system is finding it hard to afford the cost of vaccinating the population.
The State Health insurance agency’s remarks come after a top legislature’s deputy from the National People’s Congress requested free vaccinations, according to multiple media reports.
A handful of wealthy nations including the United States, Japan, Australia has already announced that once approved, covid-19 vaccines will be made available to citizens for free.
Just recently Norway — a non-EU nation –also announced all its citizens will receive the vaccine for free. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirmed in a statement, Reuters news agency reported.
Substantiating their argument, the Chinese state health insurance agency said annual medical insurance premiums have been marginal for some Chinese residents, making to difficult for the agency to afford the jabs for free.
Giving an example the agency said average health insurance premiums of ritual residents, retirees and children were at an average of 800 yuan (equivalent to $120) which only covers basic health care needs.
“The current basic medical insurance system focuses on providing basic medical treatment coverage and meeting basic medical needs, and it has not been able to expand the payment scope to cover non-therapeutic items such as vaccines,” the agency said in a statement.
But analysts and observers are optimistic that the vaccines will be covered for free by the central government as it has done in the past.
A Shanghai-based vaccine expert, Tao Lina told SCMP that it is possible that the government will swoop-in for help during this ‘public health crisis’ and cover the vaccine costs.
If not for free, the Chinese government will make the vaccines available for a marginal cost of 50 yuan a jab, since the government has acquired tons of doses, state-backed media Global Times reported.
SCMP noted a State Council document that took effect last year mentions that the central government covers the cost of major public health crises including prevention of infectious diseases, which could cover the whole nation, or parts of it, including buying vaccines and syringes.
In China at least 11 vaccine candidates are developing a COVID-19 vaccine, four of which are in 3rd stage of the clinical trial, and three are given approval for emergency use.
China is also a member of the WHO-backed COVAX initiative that aims to ensure an approved COVID-19 vaccine is made available to the needy and lower-income nations fairly.
Will India get free vaccines?
Budgetary concerns are also an issue in developing nations like India.
The Serum Institute of India which is primarily producing vaccines for the 1.3 billion Indians warned of a “concerning challenge” as it estimated the government may need Rs. 80,000 crores ($1,08,95,600) by next year.
However, health secretary Ajay Bhushan in an interview with Mint newspaper refuted the concerns and said budgetary concerns will not be an issue.
“I have seen reports saying ‘Oh, how the government will fund it!’ We are not a banana republic. We can afford to pay for the vaccine. We will find the money, we will somehow manage,” Somanathan was quoted as saying.
When asked if all the Indians will receive the vaccines for free, he said: “those matters health ministry will decide and strictly I am not commenting on that.”
“Whether people who can afford should pay or not is a separate issue. Certainly, for those who need vaccines and cannot (pay), the government will ensure that they get it. Sometimes when you don’t charge, it is abused. It is diverted to the commercial market. So we have to be careful,” he said.