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Why Did Govt Start Vaccinating 18-44 Group Without Adequate Doses?

A month since the rollout of Phase 3 of COVID vaccination drive, less than 2% of the 18-44 group has received doses.

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It's been a month since India rolled out Phase 3 of the COVID vaccination strategy.

The announcement to start vaccinating citizens between 18-44 years of age from 1 May had come at a very crucial time in April, when India's COVID-19 cases were spiking by close to 4 lakh cases on some days. That had made it imperative to vaccinate as many people as possible.

Yet, our vaccination process has been marred with contentious decisions that have slowed down the process significantly, in Phase 3.

From announcing a vaccination drive without procuring enough vaccine doses, to practicing “vaccine diplomacy” even in the middle of the second wave, to shifting the burden of Phase 3 vaccination on the already-burdened states – now we're looking at an acute shortage of vaccine doses in the country that are forcing states to halt vaccine drives.

On 26 May, the government informed that India crossed the 20-crore mark for COVID vaccinations across the country. To give you the exact figures, as of 31 May, the country has administered 21.31 crore doses of COVID vaccine.

The government also tweeted about it as well, saying that, “India crossed 20 crore cumulative COVID-19 vaccination coverage in 130 days” and that “after the US, India is the second country to achieve this mark.”

While that’s one way to look at it certainly, and an optimistic one at that, the other way to look at this is to see where the vaccination figure stands vis-a-vis India’s population.

Now, the US has a population of 33.16 crore, but India on the other hand, has a 139-crore strong population out of which at least 90 crore Indians are eligible for vaccines. So, ideally, India would need to have administer at least 180 crore doses to have vaccinated the eligible population.

But currently, as per official data, only 4.45 crore citizens in India are fully vaccinated, while 16.86 crores have received the first dose of the vaccine. That means that currently, only 3 percent of India’s entire population is fully vaccinated, while only 11 percent of India has received the first dose.

Why Did Govt Start Vaccinating 18-44 Group Without Adequate Doses?
(Photo: The Quint)
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A big reason that India is moving at a snail's pace compared to other countries with its vaccination process is because the third phase of the vaccination drive has coincided with an acute vaccine supply shortage across the country.

While the government's premature declarations of India defeating COVID and allowing elections and Kumbh Mela gatherings have received a lot of flak, the Modi government has also received scathing criticism for exporting 6.6 crore doses to other countries since January 2021 as a part of India's "vaccine diplomacy".

But since the burden of vaccinating the 18-44 group fell on state governments, many states had to delay the immunisation process over the lack of vaccine doses, and some states have now even halted the drives temporarily because their vaccines stocks are all spent.

In desperation to get more vaccines, perhaps it's the first time in history that we're seeing state governments like the Delhi and Maharashtra governments floating their own global tenders for vaccine procurement, independently of the Centre.

Of course, the chances were slim from the very beginning and the tenders were not even entertained by the pharma companies.

But finally, with so many hurdles on the way, how many people in the 18-44 category managed to get vaccines doses for themselves in the last month since the 3 Phase was launched?

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Well, according to the report of the government’s Technical Group on Population Projections, the total population of Indian citizens who fall in the 18-44 group is estimated to be around 59.4 crore.

And reports say that. as of 24 May, India had given out 1 crore doses across different states for this age group – that makes it a mere 1.7 percent.

Why Did Govt Start Vaccinating 18-44 Group Without Adequate Doses?

Bear in mind that, most of the population in this age group has only taken the first shot. Since the Phase 3 rollout, the gap between Covishield doses has also been extended to 12-16 weeks by the government. While, the four to six weeks gap between the first and second dose of Covaxin remains unchanged, whether Covaxin doses will in fact be available or not before its time to get the second shot is still not certain.

But why did we arrive at this point? Why did the government open up vaccinations for all citizens above 18, if we didn’t have enough doses? And how is that decision impacting the phase 3 vaccination drive?

In this podcast, you'll hear from Dr Anant Bhan, Public Health Expert and Adjunct Professor & Researcher in Bioethics at Mangaluru’s Yenepoya University, and Kapil Sibal, former Union minister and senior Congress leader. Tune in!

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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