Coronavirus | Maharashtra to provide free vaccination for those above 18 years

April 28, 2021 04:31 pm | Updated April 29, 2021 01:22 am IST - Pune

However, Health Minister Tope says third phase will not start on May 1 due to vaccine paucity

People wait in a queue to receive a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a center, in Amravati, Maharashtra, on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

Officially announcing the Uddhav Thackeray government’s decision to provide free vaccination for all those between 18 and 44 years, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Wednesday said the government could not commence the third phase of the anti-COVID-19 vaccination drive from May 1 owing to paucity of vaccine doses.

Following the Cabinet meeting, Mr. Tope said the State exchequer would bear the estimated expenditure of ₹6,500 crore to inoculate around 5.71 crore citizens in the 18-44 age-group. The government planned to complete the drive over the next six months.

Curbs to be extended

Mr. Tope said the State government had decided to extend the ‘Break the Chain’ restrictions currently in force for a minimum of 15 days or more after May 1 as the number of cases and fatalities were yet to come down. While hoping that the State’s daily case surge had peaked, the Health Minister said restrictions could not be eased with Maharashtra still reporting around 60,000 cases each day.

“The Cabinet has unanimously taken the decision to provide free vaccination to all its citizens above 18 years in the third phase of the programme. To achieve this, the government needs to purchase at least 12 crore vials, while administering 2 crore vaccine doses each month to complete this drive over the next six months,” he said.

Mr. Tope stressed that despite the Centre announcing the third phase to begin from May 1, it would not be possible to begin the vaccinations on that date as the only two indigenous producers — Serum Institute of India (which produces ‘Covishield’) and Bharat Biotech (which rolls out ‘Covaxin’) — could not supply the requisite amounts of doses for the smooth conduct of the inoculation drive.

Expression of Interest

“Bharat Biotech, in its Expression of Interest (EOI) to the State government’s request, has said it could only supply us with 10 lakh vaccines in May and the same number in June. From August onwards, the firm has said it could provide us with 20 lakh vaccines every month,” he said. He hoped to commence the drive only by the end of May.

Mr. Tope said the Serum Institute had given a verbal promise of supplying one crore vaccines a month to the Maharashtra government and that the State Cabinet had taken the decision to import vaccines to meet its required quantity.

“While the SII has promised to supply us with one crore vaccines, they are yet to give it in writing. So, to procure adequate vaccines, the Cabinet has taken the decision to import. The Chief Minister is in talks with the manufactures of the Russian ‘Sputnik V’ vaccine to see if they can provide us doses in the right quantity at a reasonable price,” said Mr. Tope.

He said the State hoped to procure the ‘Virafin’ vaccine by Zydus Cadilla in August, along with that of Johnson & Johnson’s ‘Janssen’ vaccine.

More choices

“The State would have more choices of vaccines and greater quantities would be available by August … we do not want to begin the drive only to shut down vaccination centres, as is happening at the moment. We would commence vaccination only after having a decent stock of doses,” said the Health Minister.

A micro-planning committee comprising Health Department authorities and senior Ministers would be working out the modalities of managing the third phase vaccination.

“We are planning to divide the 18-44 age-group into three categories: 18-25 years, 25-35 and 35-44 years. We may decide to give preference to a particular sub-group or may think of giving first doses to citizens with co-morbidities in these groups,” Mr. Tope said.

The Health Minister said the total estimated cost of ₹6,500 crore was based on a rough cost of ₹400 per dose and took into account the costs of the vaccine carrier and syringes plus logistics expenditure.

In order to achieve the target of two crore vaccinations a month, vaccination centres across the State would have to carry out 13 lakh vaccinations a day.

“This is possible as Maharashtra has this kind of capacity. Besides private establishments, the State has 13,000 organisations associated with the Public Health department itself,” he said.

Both Mr. Tope and Chief Minister Thackeray exhorted people to avoid needlessly rushing to vaccination centres.

“There must not be any indiscipline or unwarranted rush at any of the centres. We do not want them to become virus spreading centres … all registrations must be done compulsorily through the CoWin app only. Citizens must take their appointments only through this platform and go to a centre only when they have been allotted a fixed time slot,” said Mr. Tope.

Last Sunday, Cabinet Minister and senior Nationalist Congress Party leader Nawab Malik had said that the ruling ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ government was positive about giving free vaccines to all citizens above 18 years. Mr. Malik’s statement had irked the Congress (the third MVA ally) with Revenue Minister and senior Congressman Balasaheb Thorat censuring Mr. Malik for his ‘premature’ announcement, stating that only the Chief Minister had the right to make such an announcement.

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