The governments of Assam and Maharashtra on Monday said they were unlikely to begin vaccinating all adults from May 1 because of the unavailability of vaccines, The Indian Express reported.
This came two days after four other states – Rajasthan, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand – also expressed their inability to kickstart the third phase of vaccination, alleging that the Centre had hijacked most of the stocks from manufacturers, leaving very little for them.
Coming into force on May 1, phase three opens up vaccinations to all adults above the age of 18. But it also shifts the burden of procuring vaccines for the 18-45 age band entirely on state governments.
Unidentified officials from Maharashtra told The Indian Express that authorities were struggling to arrange for stocks for vaccinating adults up to 44 years of age, which is the largest demographic group in the state.
The Maharashtra government also wrote to the two vaccine manufacturers in India – the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech – but has received no official response, the newspaper reported.
“Informally, we are in touch with all three manufacturers, including Dr Reddy’s Labs,” a state official told The Indian Express. “But the existing stock seems to have been booked by the Union government.” A third vaccine Sputnik V – developed in Russia and to be imported and sold in India by Dr Reddy’s Laboratories – has also been approved by the Indian drug regulator.
An official from the state Directorate of Health Services said, “Our communication channel with SII [Serum Institute of India] is open. We are in constant dialogue but we still do not know how much stock, if at all, it can supply within the next few days.”
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Maharashtra is among the states and Union Territories that have announced free vaccines for its adult population. Others in the camp are Delhi, Gujarat, Odisha, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Sikkim, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Haryana.
The state is also working on a global tender to import vaccines from other countries.
Meanwhile in Assam, Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma too expressed doubts about whether vaccination of 18-45-year-olds will begin in the state by the first week of May. He cited the shortage of vaccines, but also pointed toward the results of Assembly elections in the state, scheduled to be announced on May 2.
“Vaccine order has been given to Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute,” he said, according to The Indian Express. “When they provide us the vaccines, only then can we begin the vaccination.”
Referring to the election results, Sarma added, “Because of these processes, I don’t think vaccination of the 18-45 bracket will begin in the first week of May. But registration will begin on the portal.”
New vaccine policy
The Ministry of Health issued a statement on April 19 saying vaccine manufacturers will have to allot 50% of the doses produced to the Centre. These vaccines will be allocated to the states on the basis of a set formula and will only be used for those who are currently eligible for the vaccines: health care workers, front line workers and all adults over the age of 45.
The manufacturers will be allowed to sell the other 50% to state governments and in the open market. Unlike the 50% acquired by the Centre, at prices negotiated by the government of India, the manufacturers will be permitted to set “a pre-determined rate in a transparent manner” for the vaccines being sold to states and private entities.
In other words, state governments that choose to vaccinate adults in the age group of 18 to 45 will have to purchase vaccines directly from the manufacturers, rather than relying on the bargaining power of the Centre.