Where are the vaccines for UP’s May 1 COVID-19 vaccination drive

There is extreme shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in India’s largest state and its government is facing problems in procuring them

By Vivek Mishra
Published: Thursday 29 April 2021

Photo: @BJP4UP / Twitter
A bad vaccination strategy at a time when the country is being ravaged by the second wave of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic can be catastrophic. In this fight with COVID-19, vaccines are considered to be the only solution. But states like Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Maharashtra are facing problems in procuring vaccines to run their inoculation programme smoothly.

This, even as the central government has started registration for those aged between 18-44 years, who will be vaccinated starting May 1, 2021.

UP has so far vaccinated 11.9 million people, the highest number among all states. But only 2,063,783 people have received the second dose, a mere 17 per cent of the total number. 

About half of UP’s population falls in the 18-44 age category. This means about 100 million people in the state are still waiting for the first dose of the vaccine.

Vaccine shortage in the state, coupled with the surging positivity rate, has deteriorated the situation.

According to official numbers, UP’s positivity rate reached 17.96 per cent as on April 26, from just 2.06 per cent on April 1.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath took to Twitter to announce the start of registrations for the mega COVID-19 vaccination drive, from 4 pm on April 28. He urged all citizens to get the vaccine.

However, the already-limited stock of vaccine and the recent letter by the Centre restricting the use of existing supplies only for people above the age of 45, can severely derail the inoculation efforts in the state. This is what sources in the UP government told Down to Earth (DTE).

UP government officials have been constantly meeting and discussing the issue. Currently, the state has around 0.75 million vaccine doses sent by the Centre for the over-45 age group. Of these, about 12,000-13,000 vaccines are ‘wasted’. The state officials are stressing on using the wasted vaccines for the 18-44 age group to accelerate the inoculation drive.

But the Centre has refused to do this, citing that the wasted vaccines are few in number and releasing them for use might lead to long queues at the vaccination centres, resulting in chaos and panic.

This points to the fact that UP may fail in its efforts to accelerate vaccination drives, especially for the large population (100 million) in the 18-44 age group, due to a huge supply crunch and the lack of a robust vaccine strategy from the beginning. 

Amid this shortage, both Maharasthra and Uttar Pradesh are considering global tenders for COVID-19 vaccines. But that entails a long and tedious process. 

There are also other issues: Recently, Adityanath announced free vaccination for the 18-44 age group. The Centre earlier allowed the same for those aged above 45 years. But in this case, the state must arrange for vaccination on its own. According a new central order, a state is free to buy vaccines directly from the manufacturers; even private hospitals can buy vaccines.

Also, the citizens won’t have the option to choose between Covishield or Covaxin, which was earlier possible. However, scientists across the nation have backed both vaccines for their efficacy.

In India, the Indian National Institute of Virology for Medical Research has been manufacturing Covaxin in collaboration with Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International Ltd, while the Serum Institute of India Pvt Ltd has been manufacturing Covishield with OxfordUniversity and AstraZeneca Plc.

Earlier, Covishield was priced at Rs 400 for state governments. This has been now reduced to Rs 300 per dose. Private hospitals can buy Covishield at Rs 600 per dose, while a single does of Bharat Biotech’s vaccine will cost Rs 600 to the state government and Rs 1,200 to private hospitals.

According to DTE’s sources in the UP government, the Centre is in talks with vaccine manufacturers and might reduce the prices, particularly for the state, in the next two days.

The sources also said manufacturers had confirmed that there was s shortage of the vaccines for the next 10 days. Hence, it is more than likely that UP’s May 1 vaccination drive will be far from effective.

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