COVID-19: Why vaccinating those aged 18-44 is an uphill task for Bihar

The state has less than 1% of the required number of vaccine doses 

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Wednesday 12 May 2021
Vaccination of 18-44 age group uphill task in Bihar amid supply uncertainty, weak infra

It’s a scramble among Bihar’s youth to get vaccinated even as the second wave of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is on the rise. And the big question is: Where are the vaccines?

The vaccination drive for individuals aged 18-44 year in the state had a delayed start on May 9, 2021 due to unavailability of vaccines. Now, even as senior health officials dish out promises of vaccinating each individual in the age group, including those without a valid identity proof, questions arise as to how the state will procure the required doses in the coming days. 

The eastern state has 54.6 million people in the age group, according to the state health ministry. It received the first consignment of 340,000 vaccine doses a day before the government could start incolutating the youth. Through the month of May, Bihar is hoping to receive 1.2 million more doses, not sufficient to provide the first jab to even three per cent of this group.

On the first day, 79,238 people in this age group were vaccinated with the first dose at 624 centres, 60,615 on the second day and 48,945 on the third day, according to official figures by Bihar State Health Society.

Last month, the state government approved an allocation of Rs 4,000 crore for vaccinating people in the 18-44 age bracket. Later, the state cabinet cleared the release of Rs 1,000 crore from the total allocation of funds for procurement of vaccine doses from Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech. 

The state government had placed an order for 10 million Covishield vaccines from SII last month, said health department special secretary Manoj Kumar. An order for Covaxin shots from Bharat Biotech was also placed. He added: 

The state has received the first consignment of Covishield and more consignment will arrive soon to continue vaccination that started recently. But Covaxin supply is yet to reach. Hope it will come soon.

Earlier, the government postponed the vaccine drive for this age-group from May 1 due to unavailability of vaccine doses.

The State health minister Mangal Pandey has repeatedly claimed that everyone in the age group of 18-44 will be vaccinated in the state. These claims have raised eyebrows among health experts, doctors as well as common people because the state has so far received less than 0.62 per cent of the total requirement.

The state’s poor health infrastructure and manpower crunch are likely to exacerbate the problem, experts said. Government agencies are in dilemma how to increase vaccination centres and engage more health workers for the drive while also tackling the current wave of infections. 

Dr Sunil Kumar, secretary of Indian Medical Association (IMA), Bihar, said:

The vaccination drive should be time-bound. At the current speed, even after availability of vaccine doses, it will take at least two years to inoculate everyone. The IMA demanded government to involve all private clinics, hospitals and health centres in rural areas with a daily quota to vaccinate people. It will help to speed up vaccination ahead of the likely third wave of COVID-19. But supply of adequate vaccine doses is still a challenge.

Health officials said a large proportion of those above 18 consist of sadhu-sants (hermits), beggars, prisoners in jails, mentally challenged individuals who have no identity card. The government will set up a separate vaccine centre for such people.

Vaccination drive in the state started on January 16 this year. A total of 8,408,557 people, mainly frontline workers, senior citizens and those above 18 years of age, have been immunised, according to health department data.

Bihar’s population is estimated to be over 120 million. The state has 1,02,099 active COVID-19 cases as of May 11 when 10,920 new cases were reported. The recovery rate has increased to 82 per cent.

In the last 24 hours, more than 72 patients lost their lives to COVID-19, pushing this month’s toll to 989.

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