People await their turn for Covid vaccination at Nesco Ground Goregaon in Mumbai.
People await their turn for Covid vaccination at Nesco Ground Goregaon in Mumbai.
BL SONI

There will be free vaccines for all adults at government hospitals but it's not going to be from May 1.The Maharashtra government has been forced to postpone the launch of its universal immunization drive for 5.71 crore people - those aged 18-44 years – to the end of May instead of May 1, for want of sufficient supply from the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech.

The SII has orally communicated it can supply 1 to 1.50 crore doses of Covishield in phases only after May 20, while Bharat Biotech has conveyed it can supply 85 lakh doses in phases - five lakhs in May, 10 lakhs each in June and July and 20 lakhs each in August, September and October. Earlier, the state cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday had okayed free vaccination for all those in the 18-44 age group.

The government will shell out Rs 6,500 crore to procure 12 crore doses to vaccinate this age group. The resources will be mopped up from its kitty, as both the finance and planning departments have given their approval.

“The state needs 12 crore doses to inoculate 5.71 crore citizens in the 18-44 age group. However, it is not possible to launch the drive from May 1 because of constraints in the procurement of vaccines. The government proposes to complete the vaccination in six months, after it gets the required doses. A committee comprising bureaucrats and doctors has been formed to decide on the vaccination of the 18-44 age group in sub-groups, such as 18-25, 25-35, 35-44. The committee will also look into whether citizens with comorbidities can be inoculated first,” said Tope. He added that the state had the capacity to administer two crore vaccines per month.

Tope made it clear that the registration on the CoWin portal was mandatory to confirm the date and time of the vaccination session and only after that could the vaccine be obtained.

He further said people were not to queue up directly at the vaccination centres. He urged people to take precautions so that the vaccination centres themselves did not spread the coronavirus due to crowding.

Only citizens above 45 years of age would be vaccinated at the centres where vaccination was currently underway. There will be separate vaccination centres for citizens for the18-44 age group, Tope said. Those opting to take the shots in private hospitals would have to pay for the vaccines; however, these would be provided for free at government hospitals, he clarified.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said the state government, despite suffering a revenue shortfall, had decided to provide free vaccines as the health of the people was its highest priority.

Tope said the CM was in talks with the makers of Sputnik V and the government would procure it if it is available at fair rates. Other vaccines such as Zydus and Johnson&Johnson would be available in August and September.

Meanwhile, Tope welcomed the SII move to reduce the Covishield vaccine price to Rs 300 per dose from the earlier Rs 400. “This will go a long way in supporting the people and saving many lives in these challenging times of the pandemic,” he noted.

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