Vax for 18-45 age group to resume in June, says state, with pvt hospitals vaccinating thousands
At a time when private hospitals in Pune and Mumbai are offering Covid vaccinations on a daily basis, residents in Pune and the rest of Maharashtra are asking why the state government has not resumed vaccination for the 18-45 year age group. The state health department has clarified that Maharashtra is likely to resume inoculation of the younger population in June, when vaccine supply increases.
Between May 24 and May 29, Pune district has seen over 0.1 million people get the jab, of which 40,649 people received it at private hospitals and 63,000 got it at government centres, under various eligible criterion.
While the state government had earlier started vaccinating those between the ages of 18-45, it later stopped. Private hospitals have continued vaccinating this age group.
Despite repeated attempts, Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope did not respond to phone calls and text messages.
Dr Archana Patil, director of health services in Maharashtra said, “We will start the vaccination for those aged 18-45 in June, but the date is yet to be set.”
While addressing state, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday said, “Availability of doses is challenge before us. We will resume the vaccination drive for age group 18-44 years soon.”
Patil also clarified that the state is purchasing vaccines from manufacturers and diverting the stock to provide second doses to those aged above 45 years.
“The process to get the vaccine is that first the central government informs us how much stock is allocated for state procurement, then we send orders to manufacturers and they supply the vaccines. Even though we place orders directly, allocation is done by the central government,” Patil said.
In Pune, as many as 28 private hospitals have managed to procure Covishield doses from the Serum Institute of India and have started vaccinations. In the past two days, (Friday and Saturday), as many as 20,500 persons in the 18-45 year age group have got their jabs at these hospitals.
In addition to this, private hospitals have also been vaccinating a fraction of the population aged above 45 years, and its own staff under the healthcare workers’ quota.
Dr H K Sale, executive director at Noble Hospital, said, “We do get some people aged above 45 years who want the vaccine despite its availability at government centres. However, that is a nominal fraction. Most of the beneficiaries that come to us are those in the 18-45 age category.”
As of Saturday, Pune saw a total of 2.7 million doses administered, as per the state health department. Activists have raised questions on the availability of vaccines in private hospitals while shutting down government centres. This has forced people to loosen their wallets and pay more for the vaccine.
Aam Admi Party member and public health expert Dr Abhit More said, “The differential pricing system of the same vaccine for centre, state and private companies, and now even some hotels in the country have started announcing vaccine packages, is the primary reason for this artificial shortage. The distribution of the vaccine is uneven while the public healthcare system should be prioritised instead of the private healthcare system. The vaccine policy should be clear and equal for all. A week before vaccinations started in private hospitals there was an acute shortage of vaccines. The availability of vaccines in private hospitals should be an added option for those who can afford it, and not a forced choice for those living in the city.”
Dr More also questioned why the government is worried about profit of the manufacturers over the overall benefit of people. He said, “Earlier Mr Poonawalla has stated that even at ₹150 per dose he was making a profit, then why is the government worried about the distributor’s or manufacturer’s profit? The central government must regulate the distribution of vaccines and make it uniform.”
State officials, however, said there is a shortage of vaccines and that the government has prioritised stock for those aged above 45.
State immunisation officer, Dr Dilip N Patil said, “The government has temporarily stopped vaccination of those aged between 18-45 because the stock is now being diverted to those awaiting their second dose, in the age group of 45 and above. This population is more vulnerable and so it is important to fully vaccinate them. We have about 0.4 million people who are awaiting their second shot of Covaxin and many more who are awaiting their second shot of Covishield. Since the gap has increased to 84 days, that number is less now. We have vaccinated over 20 million in the state totally, and we have to vaccinate about 60 million in the age group of 18-45, so we need more than 120 million doses. Also we have demanded vaccines from the manufacturers but the demand is much higher than supply, so you can say that there is a shortage.”
He further added, “To compare private vaccination and public vaccination drive would be wrong because private hospitals do not have any target as such. We have to vaccinate each and every eligible individual. We will soon start the vaccination drive for those aged between 18-45 in June, although the date is not yet decided. Even though the state places orders with the manufacturers, it is the centre that regulates the distribution.”
On Sunday, According to Press Information Bureau, the Centre announced that 120 million vaccine doses will be available in the country of which 0.586 million will be directly procured by states and private hospitals from manufacturers.