Health Minister Tope says third phase will not start on May 1 owing to vaccine paucity
While officially announcing the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government’s decision to provide free vaccination for all citizens between 18-44 years, State Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Wednesday said that the government could not commence on the third phase of the COVID-19 vaccination drive from May 1 owing to the sheer paucity in the number of available vaccine doses.
Following an important cabinet meeting today, Mr. Tope said that the State exchequer would be bearing 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, informed the Health Minister.
“The State cabinet has unanimously taken the decision to provide free vaccination to all its citizens above 18 years in the third phase of the vaccination programme. To achieve this, the government needs to purchase at least 12 crore vials, while administering 2 crore vaccine doses each month in order 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.
“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, remarking that he hoped to commence the drive only by the end of May.
Mr. Tope further informed that the Serum Institute of India (SII) 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 SII has promised to supply us with one crore vaccines, they have yet to give it in writing. So, in order 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 that the State government hoped to procure the ‘Virafin’ vaccine by Zydus Cadilla in August, along with that of Johnson & Johnson’s ‘Janssen’ Covid-19 vaccine.
“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 centers, 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 of 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 years 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 comorbidities in these groups,” Mr. Tope said.
He added that the total cost estimated at ₹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 centers 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 organizations associated with public health department itself,” he said.
Both Mr. Tope and Chief Minister Thackeray exhorted people to avoid needlessly rushing to vaccination centers.
“There must not be any indiscipline or unwarranted rush at any of the centers. We do not want them to become virus spreading centers…all registrations must be done compulsorily through the CoWin app only. Citizens must take their respective appointments only through this platform and go to a center only when they have been allotted a fixed time slot,” said Mr. Tope.