Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Tuesday said the government will have to temporarily halt the vaccination drive for the 18 to 45 age group because of vaccine shortages, even as the country faces its worst surge in infections since the beginning of the pandemic, NDTV reported.
“We are slowing down the process for 18-44 [year olds] because we don’t have vaccines,” Tope told the channel. “We don’t want to stop, but right now we have no vaccines, so we will be giving vaccines right now to 45 plus only.”
The health minister added that Maharashtra had set aside about 2.75 lakh doses for inoculating adults, which would now be used for those above 45 who are yet to receive their second dose, according to ANI. “Administering the second dose is priority,” he said.
On Monday, Maharashtra minister Aaditya Thackeray had said that Mumbai’s civic body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, has been asked to look into the possibility of procuring Covid-19 vaccines from other countries, to make up for shortages.
“Like other states, we are scrambling and struggling for vaccines,” he told a channel in an interview.
India, which kicked-off its vaccination drive on January 16, has partially or fully immunised only 9% to 10% of its total population, according to data from the government’s Co-Win portal. This is alarmingly low for a country that is seeing three to four lakh daily cases over the past few weeks.
The Narendra Modi-led administration at the Centre has been widely criticised for opening up vaccination for all adults, without a proper supply schedule from manufacturers. Despite being the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, the country does not have enough vaccines for itself.
States have had to delay the third phase of vaccination as enough supplies are not available to handle the burden of inoculating nearly 60 crore citizens in the 18-44 age group who became eligible to receive the jab from May 1.
Experts also point to the new policy change by the government on how doses are distributed across the country. Previously, all of the stock was bought by Centre and then administered to the population through both public and private health facilities.
But from May 1, vaccines have been divided in two categories, with the government purchasing 50% of the supplies to inoculate those above 45 and frontline workers. The remaining half is being purchased by states and the private sector directly from manufacturers at set prices for vaccinating adults below 45.
This has led to lags and confusion as states struggle to procure supplies on their own. Moreover, several state governments say the vaccine manufacturers are refusing to sell them vaccines as most of the stocks have been booked by the central government, leaving very little for them.
On May 8, Tope had told reporters that the Serum Institute of India has informed the Maharashtra government that it will not be able to provide Covishield vaccines to them until May 26.
The health official also flagged shortages of Covaxin, the other vaccine being used in India, which is produced by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech. Tope said about four to five lakh beneficiaries, who received Covaxin, had been waiting for their second dose but stocks were not being made available by the manufacturer or the Centre.