Amid limited stock for the third phase of vaccination for the 18-44 age group and to control crowding at inoculation centres, Maharashtra plans to first give the shot to those in the 35-44 age group, with preference to people with comorbidities, the government indicated on Friday.
Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray is expected to take a decision on it, state health minister Rajesh Tope said, adding the inoculation of those in the 18-34 age group would start once the doses are available in adequate quantity.
Currently, the state is inoculating citizens in the 18-44 age group only at five centres in a district, as the number of doses is limited. The state started the drive with 300,000 Covishield doses and later purchased 479,000 Covaxin doses. So far, 215,284 citizens in the 18-44 category have been inoculated since May 1.
"The move was prompted as we saw several instances where people from urban areas took appointments at vaccination centres in rural areas," Tope said.
The minister said such incidents caused "unrest" among locals in rural areas. "In many places, tech-savvy people from cities take appointments for vaccination in talukas and rural areas. Till we have abundant supply of vaccines, we will have to make slots as per the age group and comorbidities. If 100% from the 18-44 category are allowed to go, there can be crowding. We plan to have an age bracket of 35 to 44, with preference to people with comorbidities. I will discuss this with the chief minister," said Tope.
The state is also in talks with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Russia's sovereign wealth fund that helped finance the vaccine Sputnik V, to purchase doses. "We are trying to get the stock available with them," Tope told reporters on Friday.
He said the state has not got the doses assured by Serum Institute of India for inoculation of the 18-44 category. "The institute had assured us that it would supply an additional 350,000 doses, but so far it has not come. For the 18-44 age group, we are going slow as per the availability of 779,000 vaccines. As we get more stock, we will ramp it up."
With the vaccination of over 700,000 people in the 45+ age group on Wednesday and Thursday, the state is left with a limited number of doses. With under 100,000 doses remaining, the vaccination drive for people over the age of 45 is expected to slow down this weekend, unless doses arrive from the Centre, Tope said. Maharashtra had received 900,000 doses earlier this week from the Centre.
Tope said they are "constantly" following up with the Centre to provide doses of Covishield and Covaxin. Over 400,000 people in the state are due for their second dose of Covaxin. With the Centre not sending Covaxin doses, the state will take a decision on diverting the doses it has purchased for the second dose of people over 45. The Centre provides vaccines to the states for free. The state has also been buying vaccines for those in the 18-44 age group.
"Two days ago, we had received 900,000 doses for vaccination of people over 45 years. Of the stock, 800,000 doses have been consumed. We have some thousand vaccines left. We appeal to the Centre to provide vaccines in large quantities, especially Covaxin. Around 400,000 to 500,000 people are due for their second dose of Covaxin. It has to be given within 42 days. If they do not provide in time, the state will divert the Covaxin doses it has purchased. But we are confident that the Centre will provide adequate doses," Tope said.
The minister reiterated the state is prepared to purchase 120 million doses in one go for the inoculation of 57.1 million population in the 18-44 category as vaccination remains the "top priority" of the government. He added the state has the capacity to ramp up daily vaccinations to 1 million, but the stock is not available.