May 1 COVID-19 vaccine rollout just not doable

By Express News Service
The proposed May 1 launch of the mass vaccination programme for all Indian adults looks doubtful with states not having enough vaccines and a Chief Minister moving the calendar as far ahead as September. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Assam, West Bengal, Punjab, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh have said the inoculation drive may get delayed by weeks or even months.

Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are trying hard to meet the launch target but there is confusion on availability of the jabs. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy on Thursday said doses for the 18-45 years age group will be available only after the current inoculation drive for those above 45 years is completed. And, that will be in September.

According to Jagan, it will take four months to complete vaccinating the youth population, which means they will be fully vaccinated only by the end of January. The situation is no different in other states though most prefer not to give a timeline as to when vaccination for 18- to 44-year-olds can start.

For example, Kerala, which got 3.5 lakh doses this week and expects another 1 lakh soon, is focusing on inoculating those above 45 years.

“In government facilities, a decision has been taken to vaccinate the elderly. If we receive more vaccine doses, then arrangements can be made to vaccinate the youth as well. But for now, it is hard,” said a core team member of COVID-19 Task Force. Telangana is also not sure if it can start the programme on Saturday.

“We do not know how many vaccine doses we will get from the manufacturer. From our end, we expected 10 lakh vaccine doses a day. We will make a proper plan only based on what the manufacturers inform us that they can supply,” said health minister Eatala Rajender.

The state has 2.5-3 crore people in the 18-44 years age group. BJP-ruled Karnataka has not officially postponed the May 1 rollout date but the state may be able to start only in May second or third week.

Odisha and Bengal may buck the shortage trend

“Orders have been placed, so as and when the stocks come, they will be distributed and vaccination will be done,” said Karnataka Chief Secretary P Ravi Kumar. Tamil Nadu’s director of public health Dr TS Selvavinayakam said a high-level committee is working on formulating a plan for the vaccination drive on May 1.

The state has issued orders to procure 1.5 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Dr Selvavinayakam said the state has 5.83 lakh doses of Covishield and 1.74 lakh doses of Covaxin.

Flagging the shortage in doses, Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said, “Vaccine for all may not start on May 1 as we are not getting adequate doses. On Wednesday, we got two lakh doses and earlier, we had received 1.5 lakh doses… If we get at least 10 lakh doses of vaccine, then we can start this programme.”

Perhaps the only exceptions are Odisha and West Bengal. Odisha’s additional chief secretary (health) PK Mohapatra said the state expects at least one lakh doses from Bharat Biotech in the next few days. “Inoculation will remain suspended on May 1 and 2 due to weekly shutdown. We will roll out vaccination for 18 years plus at Bhubaneswar on May 3 if the expected doses arrive.”

BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh also said it may roll out the programe on May 3 as it expects vaccine doses by then. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee said vaccination for those above 18 years will start from May 5. “We will provide vaccines to eligible recipients according to supply from the manufacturers,” said an official of the state health department.

Meanwhile, the Centre said 2.15 crore people in the 18- 44 age group have registered on the CoWIN portal.