The third phase of the country's vaccination drive witnessed a slow start on Saturday as several states complained of an acute shortage of vaccines for the people in the 18 to 44 age group, with many of them still to procure stocks directly from manufacturers to widen the country's immunisation drive amid a raging second wave of infections.
Only a few states including Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh began the drive in the districts with high caseloads. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said large-scale inoculation of people in the 18-44 age group will begin in the national capital only from Monday.
In order to ramp up the vaccination drive, the government on April 19 announced a "liberalised and accelerated" phase 3 of vaccinations for people in the 18-44 age group to begin from May 1. As part of its guidelines for the third phase, the Centre allowed states to directly procure vaccines from manufacturers, including the two domestic producers -- Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech.
While SII is manufacturing the Covishield vaccine, Bharat Biotech is producing the indigenously developed Covaxin. Both are double-dose vaccines.
While most states have placed orders for the vaccines, officials in several states have complained of delays in supply.
Officials in Maharashtra said that the state government plans to administer nearly 350,000 doses over the next week. The state has set up only five vaccination centres in each district so that government gets time to arrange for more vaccines.
State health minister Rajesh Tope said: "We have received around 350,000 doses and are expecting another stock of 1.3 million to 1.4 million stock for this month based on which we have started our vaccination for all adults up to 44 years of age."
In Mumbai, the vaccination drive started at five centres, with the limit of beneficiaries at one centre at 200.
In Uttar Pradesh, chief minister Yogi Adityanath launched the vaccination drive at the Avantibai hospital in Lucknow. Officials said that a state plane was sent to Hyderabad to procure Covaxin doses from Bharat Biotech International Limited.
The drive began in seven districts -- Lucknow, Kanpur, Prayagraj, Meerut, Gorakhpur, Bareilly, and Varanasi -- that have reported high caseloads. "Here, the active cases are high. Hence, we begin from these districts and more districts will get the benefit later," said additional chief secretary (health) Amit Mohan Prasad on Friday.
Other states such as Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, did not begin the vaccination drive owing to non-availability of vaccines.
The Madhya Pradesh government hopes to begin vaccinating the people over 18 years of age from May 3, state health minister Prabhuram Chaudhary said. "MP requires 3.4 crore vaccines for the people of 18 to 44 years of age group. Initially, we have placed an order of 45 lakh vaccines, which is likely to be received by May 2," Chaudhary said.
Haryana additional chief secretary (health) Rajeev Arora said that the state government has placed an order of 6.6 million vaccine doses which they plan to allot in a phased manner.
Meanwhile in Bihar, the state health society's executive director Manoj Kumar said that Pune-based SII has refused to provide a bulk supply of 10 million doses. "Instead, the institute wanted the state government to place [an order of] its monthly requirement. We are sorting out the issues," he said.
In Tamil Nadu, officials said an order for 15 million doses was placed on April 28 but they were unsure when the stock would arrive. "The issue is the same (by when vaccines could be provided) for everyone, we are looking to settle it. It will be tricky to say when we can start at this point," said TS Selvavinayagam, director, directorate of public health and preventive medicine.
Citing a shortage of vaccines, the Kerala government has decided to prioritise the second doses of beneficiaries until it receives a fresh supply.
"We have asked for 50 lakh doses but got less than 10 lakh. Our priority is to give second dose to maximum people. We will start for young age group as and when we get enough jabs," said state health minister KK Shailaja. The Kerala government has decided to buy at least 10 million doses (7 million Covishield and 3 million Covaxin) from manufacturers.