Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal urged adults younger than the age of 45 not to head to Covid-19 vaccine centres just yet, saying the government does not have the doses to launch the programme for the public on Saturday, but documents and comments by officials separately suggest the launch could start on May 3.
Kejriwal's comments come at a time when there is confusion about how the 18-44 age group will get doses since several states have not been able to procure the stocks that need to be sourced separately from those meant for the 45-plus age group. At least three private hospital chains -- Max, Apollo and Fortis -- announced they will begin administering doses to this group at some facilities in the National Capital Region on Saturday.
"The vaccines have not reached us till now. We are in touch with the manufacturers and the first batch of 300,000 doses of Covishield vaccine is likely to arrive in a day or two," Kejriwal said during a press briefing streamed online.
He added: "I appeal to all citizens to not queue up at vaccination centres before our announcement as this might lead to violation of social distancing, and create a law and order situation."
According to senior officials and documents seen by HT, the CM is likely to do a symbolic launch from a Delhi government dispensary in north-west Delhi's Saraswati Vihar on Saturday, and the public launch may take place on Monday, May 3.
A government official, who asked not to be named, said the vaccination of 18-44 will begin from 100 schools, and not government hospitals, with each institute hosting five session sites. Each site will be given 150 doses, suggesting there could be total capacity of 75,000 doses.
"It was decided to shift the centres from hospitals to non-healthcare facilities such as schools because all these hospitals are now packed with Covid-19 patients and are already crowded. We recently received approval from the central government to open vaccination centres in schools and other such spaces. Had the drive continued in hospitals, there would have been an increased risk of people getting infected by Covid-19," said this person, asking not to be named.
By May 7, the government will increase the number of schools to 274 -- one in each ward of Delhi, according to a document that lays out the blueprint of the drive.
Kejriwal said the Delhi government will procure 13.4 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines over the next three months. He added that 6.7 million doses will be procured from Serum Institute of India, which manufactures Covishield, the mainstay of India's vaccination programme, and the remaining from Bharat Biotech, the manufacturer of Covaxin.
"We are trying our best that within the next three months, the entire population of Delhi gets vaccinated. We have formulated a plan and even the infrastructure needed for this is in place. Now it will depend on the two companies as to how swiftly they provide us with the vaccine," he said.
Kejriwal added that, for its part, the government has laid out a road map in terms of increasing the number of centres and the support staff required.
"However, a lot also depends on whether the manufacturers are able to send us the doses in a timely manner without any delay. These 13.4 million doses will come over a period of three months and we have asked both the manufacturers for their schedules on supply of the demanded doses," he said.
Several states have now said that they are looking at only mid-to-late May for deliveries, with some even claiming that they were yet to hear back from vaccine makers.
Experts and officials expect a rush for vaccines when the under-45 age group becomes eligible for doses on May 1. A sign of this was apparent on April 28, when over 10 million people registered on the Co-WIN platform in six hours after the option opened for the 18-44 age group.
Till now, only people 45 years of age and above, or health care and frontline workers such as police and firefighters, were eligible for doses.
The rush is likely to be fuelled by the current spike in cases, which has forced the Capital into a lockdown since April 17.
According to a second official, who asked not to be named, private hospitals have been asked to return all remaining doses provided by the government for the current vaccination drive meant for people above 45 after Friday's vaccination and purchase their own shots.
Some private hospitals in Delhi said both vaccine manufacturers have told them they will have to wait to procure doses independently. The manufacturers have said they would first meet the orders placed by state governments and then those by private hospitals.