‘Vaccine shortage, can’t roll out vaccination third phase in TN before May third week’

The official said the ramp up in production by the two manufacturers may happen only by May end or June. He said even if they commence it by May second week, it is going to be difficult, the distribution and supply going to be disproportionate, as the priority for 45+ people is yet to be fulfilled.

TAMIL NADU will not be able to roll out the Covid-19 vaccination drive for the 18-44 age group before the third week of May, a top health official attached to the state government said on Friday. He said all supplies available currently with the state government is allocated by the Centre for the age group of people above 45, “which itself is not adequate to cover that population”.

“I would say that the current stock of vaccine in any state will never be able to roll out the third phase of the vaccination drive for all adults from May 1. If somebody is doing it, it would be for a photo opportunity. We are almost certain that we cannot do anything in this regard before the third week of May,” said the top official who did not want to be named.

He said it is an informed decision and that the concerned central agencies are aware of the situation. “We are in constant touch with both vaccine makers, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. We will wait and see how much out of 1.5 crore doses of vaccine (required) will arrive to roll out the third phase,” he said.

The official said the ramp up in production by the two manufacturers may happen only by May end or June. He said even if they commence it by May second week, it is going to be difficult, the distribution and supply going to be disproportionate, as the priority for 45+ people is yet to be fulfilled.

So, he said, a substantial progress in vaccination for 18-44 age category is possible only by mid-July. “We estimate that even if they ramp up production and Serum Institute pushes up their capacity, we would be getting an adequate supply only by the third week of June. It will be a mere token until then,” the official said.

On an average, the Tamil Nadu state health systems use up to 1.3 lakh doses per day in the vaccination programmes, which are a routine affair unlike many other states where they vaccinate up to three or four lakh people on certain dates through aggressive vaccination drives. “A relatively high vaccine hesitancy is another battle we are fighting within the state,” the official said.

“Let’s concentrate first on all eligible people in the category of 45+ because they are the high risk category. What is the point in vaccinating other age categories instead of this vulnerable section,” he said.

As the rollout of third phase of vaccination as well as the procurement remains uncertain for most states, a senior health official who coordinates between the state and Centre said the population to be covered under 45+ category is higher in most of the southern states, including Tamil Nadu and Kerala, while the age group of 18-45 has a larger stake in the population in northern states.

The Tamil Nadu government was also in disagreement with Centre in the differential pricing mechanism in the vaccine procurement. On Monday, Chief Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding measures from the Centre to “procure and supply the entire required quantity of vaccine for administering all groups including those in the age group of 18 to 45”.

His letter said the system asking states to procure vaccine at pre-determined prices from the manufacturers was “inherently unfair” and also “iniquitous” since the state governments have considerably less fiscal resources at their command than the central government.

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