Government explains why India won’t open vaccination for all above 18 years

Amid the growing demand for opening COVID-19 vaccination for all, the Centre has clarified that it was not possible to ramp up vaccinations suddenly. While addressing a press conference on the current Covid-19 situation in the country, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said that the ramping up has to be done in a scientific manner which says that if a person is being inoculated then one has to sit for 30 minutes to observe if any adverse event takes place. “Many people ask why we shouldn’t open vaccination for all. There are two aims of such vaccination drives – to prevent deaths and protect the healthcare system. The aim is not to administer the vaccine to those who want it but to those who need it,” he added. “We are lucky about our vaccine production pace, but we can’t trivialize it. So far no research has shown whether herd immunity develops at so and so pace…The answer is not yet sorted out. But we do know that all vaccines being given today reduce mortality and severe disease. That is the priority,” said VK Paul, Member-Health, Niti Aayog.

Earlier, the Indian Medical Association had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to open vaccination for all above 18 years citing the rapid spread of the second wave of coronavirus. “At present, we are vaccinating the population above 45 years. In view of the rapid spread of the second wave of the disease, we suggest that our vaccination strategy needs to be geared up with immediate effect on war foot. We request the following suggestions in the Covid Vaccination Drive. All citizens above 18 years of age shall be permitted to receive Covid vaccination,” the IMA wrote in its letter to the Prime Minister.

Apart from the IMA, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal had also asked the Centre to ease the age limit criteria for vaccination. 

Responding to the demand of easing the age limit, Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla said that the existing production capacity to manufacture Covishield, one of the two vaccines being administered in India, is “very stressed”. Mr Poonawalla said the SII, which produces between 60 and 65 million doses per month presently, has so far given around 100 million doses to the centre and exported 60 million, but is “still short of being able to supply to every Indian” who needs the vaccine. “We need roughly Rs 3,000 crore which is not a small figure considering we have already spent thousands of crores. We have to find other innovative ways to build our capacity so we can support our nation in light of the COVID surge,” Poonawalla said in an interview with NDTV. 

Do we have enough vaccines?

Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh state governments have told the Centre that they might run out of vaccine within this week if they do not get additional doses. Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Wednesday said that vaccination may come to a standstill in the state soon as they have 4 lakh vaccine doses that will last only for three days. He demanded a stock of 40 lakh vaccine doses per week. Andhra Pradesh government has also alerted the Centre over the Covid-19 vaccine crisis in the state saying currently they have only 3.7 lakh doses of the vaccine and the consumption rate in Andhra is 1.33 lakh doses per day. The state has requested the Centre to release 1 crore doses of the Covid-19 vaccine urgently so that the immunisation drive can continue without interruption.

Responding to the alerts from the states, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that there is no scarcity of vaccines in the country and the states will get them as per their requirement.

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