Chandigarh: An acute shortage of Covid-19 vaccine doses has aggravated Punjab’s flailing vaccination program, which is yet to begin inoculating all those aged 18 years and above at government-run vaccination centres.
At the start, the Amarinder Singh government had announced an ambitious target of vaccinating 2 lakh people daily, but has since only been able to average over 65,000 inoculations daily, according to the state’s daily Covid bulletin. This has been mainly due to a shortage of vaccines.
Almost 72 lakh of Punjab’s population are aged above 45 years, vaccines for whom are to be provided by the central government. According to a reply filed by the state government in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the state said it received almost 40 lakh doses so far and another 32 lakh are awaited.
To vaccinate the 1.32 crore population that falls in the 18-44 years age group, the state needs 2.64 crore doses. A first set of 1 lakh doses is expected to arrive in Punjab Saturday and will be administered at government centres Monday. Officials are anticipating a rush of vaccine beneficiaries at the government-run centres, and expect to exhaust the stock in one day itself.
“After this, the next lot of another 2.30 lakh doses is expected to arrive between 15 May and 25 May, after which the next round of vaccination of 18+ will take place,” said Principal Secretary, health, Hussan Lal.
In the private sector, a little over 2,500 in the 18+ category have been vaccinated since the start of the month.
Apart from the acute shortage of vaccines for the 18+ population, Punjab has just 1.5 lakh doses left to inoculate its 45+ population, many of whom are now awaiting their second dose.
To mitigate the situation, the government now plans to set up priority categories and regions that will receive the vaccines first, apart from changing vaccine allocations for age groups.
“It has been decided that 70 per cent of the vaccines available for the 45+ category will be used to inoculate those awaiting the second dose and the rest for the first dose. However, even this is going to last only two days,” said Lal.
Chief Minister Singh Friday, while chairing a virtual Covid review meeting, had asked health officials to shortlist priority groups in the 18-45 years for vaccination. These groups are to include construction workers, teachers, government employees and those with co-morbidities as high-risk individuals. The government also intends to initially target the worst-hit districts of Ludhiana, Mohali, Jalandhar, Patiala and Bathinda, before vaccinating the rest of the state.
“We had ordered 30 lakh vaccine doses from Serum Institute of India for the Phase 3 vaccination, out of which we have paid for 4.29 lakh doses. The Government of India has now allocated 3.30 lakh against this order to Punjab for this month. Out of this the first one lakh doses are expected to arrive today (Saturday),” Lal said.
Also read: Amarinder says Punjab is open for outside Covid patients even as Chandigarh closes doors
How Punjab has fared
The vaccination drive in Punjab has been sputtering since the national programme began on 16 January due to a limited supply of vaccines. As a result, only 32 lakh people in the state have received the first dose of the vaccination, which is a little over 10.5 per cent of the total population eligible for vaccines. Of this, 5.28 lakh have taken the second dose as well, according to the latest data released by the state in its daily Covid bulletin.
The state’s data shows that so far, over 7 lakh people in the top priority groups — healthcare and frontline workers — have been vaccinated with their first dose. Among healthcare workers, over 1.8 lakh of them have received the first dose, of which over 93,000 (over 51 per cent) have also received their second dose.
Similarly, nearly 5.5 lakh frontline workers were vaccinated with the first dose, of which only 1.2 lakh (about 22 per cent) received their second dose.
In the second phase of the vaccination drive that opened up the shots to those aged 45 and above, the state performed better. More than 24.6 lakh were given their first dose. However, only 3.13 lakh (about 12 per cent) took their second dose, the daily bulletin shows.
“One of the main reasons for the low compliance of the second dose is because the gap between the two shots of the vaccine was increased. A lot of people are waiting to get inoculated after 8-12 weeks of the first dose,” said Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, incharge of the Punjab Covid control program.
Punjab is among the poor performing states in the country in terms of vaccination coverage.
“We have vaccinated almost 75 to 80 per cent of our healthcare workers with at least one dose. The number of frontline workers vaccinated is more than the original targeted numbers and of the total population above 45+, we have managed to vaccinate almost 35 per cent with the first dose,” said Dr Bhaskar.
This report has been updated to correct an error in the headline
Also read: Centre’s 18+ vaccine policy unfair to states: Punjab’s Amarinder Singh demands funding