Little stock for 18-44 age group: Maharashtra, Assam unlikely to give 18+ the jab from May 1

Maharashtra is unlikely to roll out its anti-Covid vaccination drive for the 18-44 year age group from May 1 due to constraints of vaccine availability, state government officials said on Monday.

Under the new guidelines from the Centre, officials said, Maharashtra has to arrange for its own procurement and ensure enough stock for vaccinating adults up to 44 years of age – the largest demographic group in the state.

Five other states — Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Punjab and Kerala — had on Sunday said they would postpone this next phase of the vaccination for the same reason.

In Guwahati, Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma also said on Monday that he doubts whether vaccination of 18-45-year-olds will begin in the state by the first week of May, pointing towards the twin issues of vaccine availability and announcement of Assembly poll results on May 2.

“Vaccine order has been given to Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute (of India, or SII). When they provide us the vaccines, only then can we begin the vaccination,” Sarma told the media. “Today, the Centre has given a guideline, based on which…it will be ascertained what amount of vaccine each state will get.”

Pointing out that the Assam election results are on May 2, Sarma said, “Moreover, by May 4 payments need to be made. 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.”

Maharashtra has also written to the SII and Bharat Biotech but has received no official response, it is learnt. “Informally, we are in touch with all three manufacturers (including Dr Redddy’s Labs). But the existing stock seems to have been booked by the Union government. Manufacturers have an upper hand in deciding how much stock to supply to which state,” a state official said.

An official from the state Directorate of Health Services said, “Our communication channel with SII is open. We are in constant dialogue but we still don’t know how much stock, if at all, it can supply within the next few days.”

The state has not written to Dr Reddy’s Labs since it has not announced its vaccine rates. The Maharashtra health department is also working on a global tender to procure vaccines.

The state will open registrations for the 18-44 age group on the CoWIN app from April 28, but slots may not open from May 1. N Ramaswamy, director, state National Health Mission, said, “Vaccine availability is a problem. Once we get supply, we will start immunisation for all those above 18 years.”

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