Centre clueless on rollout as major vaccination drive set to kick off

Express News Service
NEW DELHI: On the eve of a major Covid vaccination expansion launch in India, the Union Health Ministry appeared clueless on the initiative and said that the vaccines for the 18-44 age group may be available in states that have coordinated with vaccine manufacturers.

It however evaded questions on vaccine stock availability for the month of May in India.

“States are coordinating with the vaccine manufacturers. We feel that the vaccination policy will start from tomorrow as designed and will stabilise slowly,” said Luv Agarwal, joint secretary of Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in a briefing on Covid status in India on Wednesday.

He added that the Centre will continue to cover the vaccination cost of the 45+ age group while trying to boost the production of Covid vaccine doses and also said that coordination is underway with state governments and manufacturers.

The statement by the Centre comes as several states including Delhi, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra, Telangana, Bihar, Assam Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh have expressed doubts that inoculation drive can open for 18 plus groups from Saturday.

While the state governments continue to struggle for the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines, apart from Apollo hospitals, two other major chains of Corporate hospitals have procured the supplies for Saturday’s rollout.

Max healthcare is set to make Covishield available at about Rs 800 per dose, which includes Rs 600 charged by the manufacturer and Rs 200 overhead costs. At Fortis hospitals, on the other hand, Covaxin will be available at Rs 1250 per dose which includes Rs 50 administrative charges and Rs 1200 per shot cost to the private hospitals.

Owing to the massive vaccine shortage, many of these states have even expressed an inability, at least for a large number of vaccination centres, to continue vaccination for the priority group, those above 45 years, who have been eligible for the jabs from before.

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Serum Institute of India is currently producing 7 crore doses of Covishield every month while the manufacturing capacity of Bharat Biotech, the maker of Covaxin, is much lesser at about 1 crore doses. In India, an additional 58-59 crore people will now be eligible for vaccination from Saturday while a small percentage of 45 plus population — amounting to about 34 crore — has been covered so far. 

Also, as the majority of vaccine doses, however, have been pre-booked by the Centre for May, very little stock might be available under the state and private hospital quota.

The first batch of Sputnik V vaccine, developed by a health research agency in Russia and now approved in India, is set to arrive in India on Saturday but there is no clarity so far on its availability in states and private hospitals and the quantum of its stock.  

Meanwhile, K Hariprasad, president of the hospitals division at Apollo group told this newspaper that the group has procured some stock of both Covaxin and Covishield, sufficient to last about a week at 400-500 shots per day, for 7 sites in India, but said it is waiting for CoWin portal to open for private hospitals.

“Since the vaccination is opening tomorrow, we are expecting by late evening today when we can enter our details in the portal and 18 plus people can start booking their appointment,” he said.

The group is planning to make the vaccine available at 7 sites which include Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Cochin, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.