Delhi hits 5 million jabs but few doses left for 18+
The national capital has all but run out of coronavirus vaccines for adults below the age of 45, the Delhi government said on Friday, announcing that centres catering to this age group will be shut from Saturday with no new stocks expected for the rest of the month. Private hospitals administering vaccines to people in this age group will, however, continue to function.
The announcement came on a day the Capital hit an important landmark, administering over 5 million vaccine doses – including first and second shots – since the exercise began on January 16. According to the Delhi government, at least 800,000 of these were given to people in 18-44 age group, for whom the drive began on May 1.
“Delhi has crossed total 50 lakh (5 million) vaccination doses benchmark today (including first and second dose). But it’s unfortunate that we have to close our centres for 18+ age group because of non-availability of vaccine,” said deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia.
Overall, about 26% of the population has received at least one dose -- the latest electoral rolls put Delhi adult population at about 15 million -- although the recipients are likely to include people from the neighbouring NCR towns of Noida, Ghaziabad, and Gurugram. Of the 5 million jabs, only 1.13 million, or 23%, are second shots.
“From tomorrow, we will have to stop the vaccination for the 18-44 age group. This is a matter of regret and concern, since we have seen that the second wave has also significantly impacted people of younger ages. There have been cases as well as deaths in this age group,” said Aam Aadmi party leader Atishi, while sharing the government’s daily vaccination bulletin on Friday.
“This is an age group that also wants to be vaccinated and is coming forward by registering in large numbers. Hence, we appeal to the Union government to make more doses available; otherwise we will have to halt vaccinations for this group entirely from Monday onwards,” she added.
States have to buy their stock of vaccines for this age group directly from manufacturers on the basis of a Union government approved formula.
According to government’s records, some centres for 18-44 group had a couple of hours’ worth of doses left for Saturday and no stocks are expected for the rest of this month.
To be sure, the Capital has doses for people aged 45 and above, and private hospitals are carrying out vaccinations for the under-45 age group from stocks directly procured from the manufacturers.
The Union health ministry did not respond to requests for a comment on Delhi’s vaccine supplies. Centre has previously said that it will allot states doses -- even those that they procure directly -- using a formula based on their population and demographics in order to ensure no states are disadvantaged.
For the month of May, India has a cumulative supply of 73 million doses, Union government officials said earlier this month. Half of the monthly production goes to the Union government that sends vials to states to vaccine people above the age of 44 for free.
The remaining half is split between the state governments and private hospitals. Only the doses acquired by the state government are offered for free to the under-45 group – at private hospitals, these can cost between ₹900-1,250 depending on the facility and the vaccine.
According to an affidavit filed by the Union government to the Supreme Court on May 9, the Centre has allocated 360,530 doses for Delhi government to acquire from the vaccine makers for administration to people below 45. This is separate from the doses acquired by private hospitals directly from the vaccine makers.
On Friday, the Delhi government said that vaccination has been suspended in 235 of the 368 centres meant for the 18-44 age group. This includes 140 centres where Covaxin was being administered and had to be shut last week when the vaccine ran out.
The remaining centres are likely to run out of doses within a few hours when they open on Saturday, Atishi said. “Collectively, these 133 centres have Covishield stocks which will not last for more than a few hours on Saturday. And we will be forced to suspend them too,” Atishi said.
She added that for the 45-and-above age group, only second doses of Covaxin were being given. “We technically have Covaxin doses that would last for less than a day (for the 45 and above age group). So, we are managing things by vaccinating only people arriving at the centres for second doses. For this beneficiary group, we have eight days’ Covishield stock left. I urge the central government to intervene in this regard and ensure that we do not have to suspend vaccine centres for any group,” she said.
At least three states -- Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan -- too halted vaccinations for the 18-44 age group earlier in the month after a surge in demand meant the limited doses were quickly used up. Karnataka too suspended the drive for this age group but said on Friday it will resume it from the weekend. Tamil Nadu, which was short on doses for this category, began inoculating this category only on Friday.
Experts said accelerating the vaccination drive is crucial in order to stave off another wave of cases. “In several states across the country, including Delhi, the case trajectory and positivity rates are going down at this point. This is the time to boost the vaccination drive. This period of decline in cases is an opportunity to increase vaccine coverage and protect large share of the population against potential waves in the coming days,” said Dr Lalit Kant, former head of the epidemiology and communicable diseases division at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
“A state like Delhi has seen the terrible consequences of a recent Covid-19 wave. We can’t let that happen again. Governments should take all possible steps to ensure increased production of vaccines, more supply and enable opening of more vaccine centres across the country to widen the drive and increase vaccine coverage at this point,” he added.