Ahead of phase 3, states divided over vaccine stocks, availability
Multiple states have said that they may not be able to begin coronavirus vaccinations for all adults from May 1, while some others said they will use the stocks at hand and hope for replenishments from the companies or through the central government as they go along, shrouding the third phase of the drive in confusion since large numbers of people also become due for their second doses soon.
India’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has significantly slowed down in recent days as outbreaks expand across the country, triggering restrictions and reluctance among people. In the last week, 2.6 million doses were administered in a day on average, which is a 38% drop from the peak daily vaccination rate of 4.1 million doses on average during the week ending April 21.
Officials in at least two states – Rajasthan and Punjab – said they will not be able to open up vaccinations for all aged 18 and above from May 1, while Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka said they will roll-out the expansion with the stocks they have at present but were hoping more doses come in later in the month.
Officials in Bengal, where assembly election results are to be declared on May 2, said they will likely begin 18+ vaccinations from May 5 but need more stocks. “Existing stock is dwindling. Only 5-7 lakh doses are left in Bengal so to carry out universal vaccination, we need fresh stock,” said a Bengal health department official, asking not to be named.
In Rajasthan, an official said the target launch date is now May 10. “The state is facing shortage of vaccines and is asking the Union government for bulk stock. The shortage has forced the drive to be halted at several places,” said an official, who asked not to be named. This person added that the state has placed direct orders for 37.5 million doses, though delivery timelines were not immediately clear.
Last week, on April 19, the Union government announced it will allow direct sales of coronavirus vaccine to states and private hospitals, who were free to give it to anyone above the age of 17, accepting a long-standing demand to open the drive up.
Experts say rapid, universal immunisation may be the only way for India to emerge out of the current crisis, since sustained lockdowns are economically damaging.
But the plan has been mired in confusion about procurement as well as pricing. States will need to negotiate deliveries and purchase the doses on their own and their share is likely to be from within a kitty of half of what India-based vaccine makers produced, which will also be shared by private hospitals.
The rest will go the Union government, which will continue the free vaccination programme for people above the age of 45 at centres to which it delivers. Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech (the makers of Covishield and Covaxin) drawing criticism for different pricing for centre, states and private outlets.
Several states have announced they will make vaccines free for people between the age of 18 and 44. Officials in Maharashtra, which was the first to make such an announcement, said on Monday the state is unlikely to roll the drive out for those in the 18-44 age category in a big way owing to challenges related to supply and lack of clarity on whether it would provide free vaccines to all.
A day after Maharashtra ministers announced the government will provide free vaccines to beneficiaries over age 18, state health minister Rajesh Tope on Monday said that it may not be possible, adding that the department will move a proposal to provide free vaccine jabs to the poor only.
In Delhi, which too will offer free doses for all adults at state government-run centres and announced it had placed an order for 13.4 million doses, an official said the expansion will begin with the existing stocks and orders are being place for more, which will likely arrive at least two weeks later.
Tamil Nadu, which too said it will sponsor doses for all adults, said it will begin with existing stocks, possibly from May 1. “We are preparing to vaccinate everyone above 18 from May 1,” said Tamil Nadu health minister C Vijayabaskar. “Chief minister will make an important announcement tomorrow on how we will go about this so it won’t be right if I speak on [procurement] now,” he said, while adding that the priority is to give the second doses to eligible people.
The state is yet to place orders directly with the manufacturers.
In Punjab, where chief minister Amarinder Singh said on Sunday that the expansion is unlikely to be possible till May 15, officials said on Monday that direct orders are yet to be finalised.
Principal secretary, health and family welfare, Husan Lal, said the state government has ordered three million doses of Covishield, but “SII is yet to respond on the schedule of delivery. We are prepared for the roll-out provided we have the enough doses of vaccinations”.
KV Trilok Chandra, Karnataka’s commissioner for health, family welfare, said the state will begin offering doses to all adults from May 1, and had placed an order for 10 million doses of Covishield. “Delivery schedule is awaited. Hopefully we will get replenished,” he added.
Union government officials said on Monday that state governments will have to directly procure vaccines from manufacturers, whether domestic or foreign. From May 1, the Centre will not get into procurements, including imports, beyond their 50% quota, a senior official familiar with the matter said, asking not to be named.
Experts said this could create complications due to the different pricing announced by SII and Bharat Biotech, which offer the cheapest rate to the Union government, citing bulk orders. “There should be same charges for central and state governments,” said Dr K Srinath Reddy, founder, Public Health Foundation of India.