CoWin crash, vaccine shortages cast doubt on 1 May rollout as 18+ register for 3rd phase

CoWin crash, vaccine shortages cast doubt on 1 May rollout as 18+ register for 3rd phase

Most states look unlikely to be able to start vaccinations for those above 18 on 1 May given a shortage of vaccine doses and manufactures not committing to sending supplies on time.

Representational Image | People wait in a queue to receive a dose of Covid-19 vaccine in Mumbai, on 26 April 2021 | PTI

Representational Image | People wait in a queue to receive a dose of Covid-19 vaccine in Mumbai, on 26 April 2021 | PTI

New Delhi/Mumbai/Kolkata/Raipur: The registration for vaccination for those in the 18-44 age group opened Wednesday, amidst technology glitches on the CoWin website, complaints of vaccine shortage in many states and a general uncertainty on whether the third phase of the India’s vaccination programme can indeed be rolled out as scheduled. The Centre had on 19 April announced that vaccinations would be opened up for all those above the age of 18, beginning 1 May.

The CoWin website, where one has to register for vaccination, however, crashed minutes after registrations opened. Thousands went to the website to register, but till evening, most people had little success, as the only slots being displayed in the site were for people aged 45 and above. Many took to Twitter to share their disappointment. One such person, Rituraj Deka, tweeted: “What’s the point of registration if no center is allowing to book for age group below 45?”

Meanwhile, most states were still trying to figure out the delivery schedule of vaccines and some have been told by the Serum Institute of India (SII), that manufactures the Covishield vaccine, that deliveries will not start before 15 May.

Private hospitals in states such as West Bengal and Delhi have only just been notified by the respective governments that they will have to source the vaccines directly from the manufactures. Speaking to ThePrint, a senior executive of a private hospital chain, summed up phase three of the vaccination drive as “Royal Mess, Season 2, Episode 3”.

ThePrint looks at the preparations in some states.

Also read: 70% Indians not aware that all above 18 will be eligible to take Covid vaccine

Uttar Pradesh: ‘Will declare dates depending on supplies’

The BJP-led state government is unsure whether it can start vaccinations for those in the 18-44 age group from 1 May. “We will declare the date of launch of vaccinations for those in the 18-44 age group, depending on supplies. We have already placed an order for 1 crore vials of vaccine with our Indian manufactures. Talks are on with the companies, but we are yet to get a confirmation on delivery dates,” said a state health official on the condition of anonymity.

A woman getting a Covid vaccine shot | Representational image | Photo: Praveen Jain

The Yogi Adityanath government is also reportedly planning to float a global tender for four crore vaccine vials from an international drug-maker, with a clause to increase the number of vaccines ordered. Government spokesperson Sidharthnath Singh told ThePrint, “We have discussed it [the global tender] in a meeting Wednesday and will make a formal announcement soon.”

On Saturday, the state had ordered 50 lakh doses of Covishield and Covaxin each from manufacturing companies to ensure availability of adequate doses of Covid-19 vaccine. Additional doses of the vaccine will be made available by the Centre, though there has been no confirmation on the date for that yet.

“A comprehensive action plan is being prepared for phase three of vaccinations. We are yet to receive supplies, but are hopeful that we will be able to start vaccinations in the first week of May. The chief minister is planning to start the next phase of vaccinations in the state in an organised manner, and in keeping with the Centre’s directive,” said an official in the state health department.

According to data released by the UP government, 99,35,626 people in the state have received the first vaccine dose and more than 21 lakh people have received both doses. The state had the highest number of vaccinated people in the country as on Wednesday, said additional chief secretary, health, Amit Mohan.

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Maharashtra: ‘Free vaccines for 18-44 year olds’

The Maharashtra government Wednesday formally announced free Covid vaccinations for everyone in the 18-44 age group. It, however, clarified that the next phase of vaccinations will not begin on 1 May, owing to lack of stocks.

The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) cabinet, comprising members from the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, cleared the decision on free vaccination in a meeting Tuesday.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said, “The state health department is planning the vaccination programme and citizens will be given prior notice, so please avoid unnecessary crowding at vaccination centres.”

He added that the next steps will be announced only after planning the vaccination drive, based on the state’s success in procuring vaccines.

Maharashtra has 5.71 crore people in the age group of 18 to 44 years, according to the state health department. The government estimates that 12 crore doses of vaccine will be required to vaccinate this population. Officials from the state health department told ThePrint that the estimated cost for this is Rs 6,500 crore, which includes the cost of transporting and storing the vaccines and the manpower costs involved in the process.

State Health Minister Rajesh Tope told ThePrint that the state government wants to finish the task of vaccinating those in the 18 to 44 age bracket within six months.

“This means we will have to vaccinate two crore people a month. The state government is capable of doing this, if we get the supply of vaccines. The state health department has 13,000 organisations associated with it, which can be mobilised for the task. Now, the big question is, can we start the third phase of vaccinations on 1 May? The answer is no,” Tope said, adding that everything depends on when and how the state gets the stock of vaccines.

The state government has written to both Pune-based SII as well as Hyderabad’s Bharat Biotech, which makes Covaxin, stating its vaccine requirements for the third phase and enquiring about how much and when the companies can supply, said Tope.

While SII has orally conveyed that it can supply one crore doses a month, the assurance is yet to come in writing, he said. Bharat Biotech has agreed to provide 10 lakh doses in May and June and 20 lakh doses each month after that, Tope added.

“The CM is also in talks for getting the Russia-made Sputnik vaccine to Maharashtra. By August, we may also have the option of the Zydus Cadila and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the state,” Tope said.

He added, that the state cabinet has decided to form a sub-committee, comprising officials of the public health department and some of the cabinet ministers, to micro-manage the inoculation of those in the 18-44 age group.

“They [the sub-committee] will decide which segment within this age group will be inoculated first, whether those with co-morbidities should be given preference and so on,” he added.

Meanwhile, in Mumbai, Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal said in a statement Wednesday that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation will open 227 new municipal vaccination centres, one in each ward, to cater to the those in the 18-44 years category. The number of private centres will be increased from 73 to 100, he has said. ThePrint has a copy of the statement.

“They [the municipal vaccination centres] will cater to vaccinations of everyone in the over-18 years [18-44?] category. The 63 existing MCGM/government vaccination centres will cater solely to those over 45 years,” Chahal said.

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West Bengal: ‘Initiated communication, strategising’

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, the West Bengal government stated that “communication and strategising have been initiated” for phase three of vaccinations, and “efforts by private sector hospitals to procure vaccines from manufacturers will be calibrated, mediated and monitored by the government of West Bengal, and undue anxiety on this issue also would be avoidable.”

The government’s, of which ThePrint has a copy of it, also said that “it has come to the notice of the government that about 1 lakh recipients of the first doses of vaccines are anxiously waiting for their second doses at different private sector hospitals, where they had received the first doses.” The statement added that government officials have spoken to representatives of private hospitals who said the required number of vaccines to cover the second dose requirement will be made available by the government.

On vaccinations at government hospitals, the statement said, “efforts are continually on to arrange, seek, procure and stabilise the receipt of sufficient vaccines gradually.”

The state government had on 26 April held a meeting with representatives of private hospitals to discuss the issue.

Following that, Rupak Barua, Group CEO, AMRI Hospitals, and president of Association of Hospitals of Eastern India, had said, “Today we had a meeting with senior state health department officials regarding the third phase of Covid vaccination drive, which is scheduled to begin on 1 May. We have been told that private hospitals will have to buy their own stock of vaccine vials. While the government has assured us of help in contacting the manufacturers, we have asked for more clarity on some issues, particularly on the supply chain and vaccination of recipients awaiting their second dose. The state government will get back to us in a couple of days with clarifications from the Centre.”

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Chhattisgarh: ‘Unlikely to get vaccine doses in time’

The Chhattisgarh government too is not sure about whether it will be able to open vaccinations for those in the 18-44 age group from 1 May, as stipulated by the Centre.

On Wednesday, CM Bhupesh Baghel asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to step in and ensure early availability of vaccines to the state, after Bharat Biotech informed of its inability to supply vaccines before 20 July.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Baghel wrote, “We have decided to provide free COVID vaccination to everyone above 18 years of age, from 1 May. We have ordered 25-25 lakh doses of vaccines each from Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech. While Bharat Biotech has informed us via e-mail that the doses would be delivered by July 2021…”, the state is yet to receive a response from SII.

Baghel also requested Modi that state governments be made aware of the Centre’s action plan for the third phase of vaccinations and emphasised that allocation of vaccines to states must be based on the population and positivity ratio and number of active cases.

Chhattisgarh state vaccination in-charge, Dr Amar Singh Thakur, Wednesday told media about that the state requires 25 lakh doses of Covishield and Covaxin.

Meanwhile, sources in the state health department informed ThePrint that the third phase of Covid vaccination in Chhattisgarh is unlikely to take off on 1 May.

“The situation is very chaotic right now. With hardly two days left for the drive to begin, nothing is in order yet. We have not received any formal communication or guidelines [from the government] as to how carry on with to the vaccination programme for those in the 18-44 age category. As a result there has been no on-ground preparation. It’s being said that consignments of around 18 lakh vaccine doses are on their way but we don’t know when it will reach,” an official said.

The official added: “Even if we are able to get these vaccines in the next two days, there won’t be enough man power to handle the programme.”

The Chhattisgarh government has targeted vaccinating around 1.2 crore people during the third phase of vaccinations. According to data shared by the state government, as on 27 April, more than 54 lakh people in the above-45-years category received at least one dose of the vaccine.

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Rajasthan: ‘Don’t have sufficient vaccine stock’

The Rajasthan government isn’t ready to start inoculation of those aged between 18-45 years. Officials in the state government told ThePrint that they had asked for 3.75 crore doses from SII.

“We received a response Tuesday wherein we were told that they don’t have any more Covid vaccine to supply at this point as the Centre too has sought supplies till 15 May,” state Health Minister Raghu Sharma told ThePrint.

Responding to queries on the state’s plan to vaccinate the next category of people starting 1 May, Sharma said: “What can we do if we don’t have sufficient vaccines?”

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot had announced free vaccination for those in the 18-44 age group last week.

State Immunisation Officer Raghuraj Singh said “there’s no way we can vaccinate anyone before 15 May since we won’t get supplies before that.”

Singh also said, “if private hospitals source vaccines from the state, they have to provide them to recipients free of cost. If, however, they get it themselves, then they can charge a maximum of Rs 600 for each dose.”

Also read: India’s vaccine shortage threatens to prolong its Covid crisis

Delhi: ‘Ordered 1.34 crore doses of vaccine’

CM Arvind Kejriwal Monday announced free vaccination for people aged between 18-44 years in Delhi.

The government has ordered for 1.34 crore doses of vaccines from manufactures and also pressed for uniform pricing of vaccines at private hospitals.

With inputs from Aneesha Bedi and Prashant Srivastava

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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