Facing shortages of the coronavirus vaccine, the Punjab government on Thursday decided to join the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative. A release issued by the state government noted that the decision was taken with the aim of “sourcing and procurement of Covid vaccines at the best price”.

COVAX is a joint initiative by various global health bodies including the GAVI Alliance and the World Health Organization, set up to generate the development of Covid-19 vaccines and to ensure vaccine equity.

The decision, taken in a virtual meeting of the state Cabinet, was suggested by virologist Dr Gagandeep Kang, who heads the Punjab Expert Group on vaccination, the release stated.

In a separate decision, Punjab will now place orders for Covaxin shots for industrial workers in the 18-45 age group. So far, the state was only procuring Covishield for beneficiaries in this age group. However, Health Secretary Hussan Lal told the Cabinet in Friday’s meeting that of the 30 lakh Covishield doses ordered by the state government, the Serum Institute of India has so far confirmed 4.29 lakh, of which only 1 lakh doses had been received.

Several states have complained of shortage of vaccines since the third phase of inoculation commenced from May 1, which had made all adults eligible for the shot. While Punjab is the first state to take the COVAX route, at least eight states have decided to float global tenders for procuring vaccines.

Under the new vaccination policy, states and private hospitals have the onus of procuring vaccines for those in the 18-44 age group, from the manufacturers directly. But the policy leaves only 50% of the vaccines manufactured by Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India to be used to inoculate nearly 60 crore beneficiaries in this age group. The remaining half of the stock is earmarked for the Centre to vaccinate priority groups.

Meanwhile, amid paucity of vaccines across the country, the Centre on Thursday said that the gap between two doses of the Covishield vaccine can be increased to 12-16 weeks. No changes were made to the dosage regimen of Covaxin. The decision was taken after the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation made a recommendation in this regard.

The government panel also recommended deferring vaccination by six months after recovery for those who have been infected by coronavirus.

However, these decisions have not been linked to the shortages in vaccine supply by any official authority.