Just hours before the universal adult immunisation was to kick off, the Centre confirmed it would be a slow start. The Union health ministry said on Friday that the third phase of Covid-19 vaccination —for 18 to 44 years — would be launched only in some states on May 1. The process is expected to stabilise slowly to cover a wider population in a few days, according to a ministry official. But there were some last-minute surprises.
Maharashtra, among the states to maintain that the supply was too short for the next round of vaccination, relaxed its stand late Friday evening. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced that the state would start vaccinating citizens in the 18 to 45 years category on May 1 itself but it would be a phased process due to the shortage of vaccines.
Even major private hospital chains including Apollo, Max and Fortis made announcements that vaccination would be available to the under-45 category from Day One of this round. In their respective statements, they too clarified that initially the jabs would not be available in all their hospitals and therefore wouldn’t be a countrywide exercise till the vaccine supplies are ramped up. However, many applicants said they could not book the timing of vaccination in any of these hospitals.
Apollo has made arrangements to procure vaccines from the manufacturers directly in view of the critical situation during the current pandemic wave, the group said in a statement.
“Vaccination will begin with limited quantities and will be ramped up in the weeks ahead,’’ it added. Fortis said it would administer Covid vaccines at its North India centres starting May 1. It added that Fortis in other cities would start the process once ‘’supplies are made available by the authorities’’. Max Healthcare said it had procured Covishield directly from the Serum Institute. Initially only select Max hospitals in Delhi-NCR would provide universal vaccination below the age of 45 and gradually it would be available countrywide as supplies increase, Max said in a statement. For the past many days, several states and private hospitals raised concern over the shortage of vaccines while pointing out that the next round of immunisation would be delayed.
Besides Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh--also in the midst of a surge in Covid cases—are opening up vaccination for all adults on Saturday, but across the most affected districts. Stating that Maharashtra had only 300,000 doses, the CM said vaccination would be in phases in the state. Maharashtra is making preparations to buy 120 million doses by making a one-time payment. The UP government has also decided to float a global tender for about 50 million vaccines.
Delhi — which is witnessing an unprecedented health crisis — has asked people not to line up at vaccination centres on Day One of the third round since sufficient doses are not available. “We are in constant touch with the companies for supply of doses. We are hopeful that in another day or two, more doses will come,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said. Many who had booked their appointment for the jab in Delhi received cancellation messages on Friday. A Delhi-based oncology clinic said in a social media message: “No guidelines from state government. No vaccine available. Please wait to hear from us.”
“States which have coordinated with the manufacturers will start the exercise tomorrow. This new programme is a paid one. The government will continue to provide free vaccines for other groups,” Lav Agarwal, joint secretary, health ministry, said while addressing a press conference on Covid situation in the country.
He also said just like the vaccination drive had picked up after the launch of the first phase on January 16, the same would happen for the next round as well. “We are hand holding states and giving guidance on how to use the additional supply that they can now access,” Agarwal said.
Covishield maker Serum Institute is likely to prioritise supplies to some states including Delhi and Maharashtra given their caseload and the existing inventories. “A detailed plan is being worked out on distribution of vaccines to states and private hospitals and would be concrete in a day or two. Prioritisation would depend on the situation (caseload etc) and the inventory a state holds etc,” said a person close to the development.
Vaccine supplies for states and private hospitals for the universal immunisation drive may begin in the real sense by the third week of May, sources said. Apart from the two Indian vaccine makers, Russia’s Sputnik V would also be available in May in the form of imports. Some smaller hospitals have been told by vaccine makers to wait till the jabs are available in the private retail market or source them from state governments. “This may take five to six months or so. Vaccine makers will institutionally sell vaccines to larger hospitals with more demand,” an industry source said.
Responding to a query at the health ministry press briefing on why election rallies and kumbh mela were allowed to proceed, Agarwal said, “Understand the trajectory of the virus. It spread in Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, MP and now UP followed by wider spread of the country. The need is to work in areas where it has spread.”
(Inputs from Virendra Singh Rawat in Lucknow)