India To Open Covid-19 Vaccinations To All Above 18 Years Of Age From May 1

The Indian government will significantly expand its Covid-19 vaccination drive in a bid to tackle the massive rise of cases that have crippled the country’s health infrastructure.

Everyone above the age of 18 will be eligible to get vaccinated from May 1, the government said in a press release. Vaccine manufacturers will be incentivised to further increase production and release up to 50% of their supply to state governments and in the market at a pre-decided rate.

The decision, taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, comes as a deadly second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has gripped the world’s second-worst affected country. Rising cases have overwhelmed India’s already struggling health infrastructure, leading to a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen and critical drugs.

Under the third phase of vaccination, manufacturers will supply 50% of their monthly doses to the central government. They will be free to sell the rest to states and in the open market.

Manufacturers will have to make an advance declaration of the price for the 50% of vaccine doses that will be available for state governments before May 1.

Private hospitals will have to procure their supply exclusively from the 50% that has been set aside for the central government. Private vaccine providers will also have to declare their self-set rates, the statement said.

Vaccinations at government-specified centres will continue to be free of cost for healthcare workers, frontline workers and those above 45 years of age.

The government said manufacturers will be incentivised to ramp up production and also invite other domestic and international producers. “It would also make pricing, procurement, eligibility and administration of vaccines open and flexible, allowing all stakeholders the flexibility to customise to local needs and dynamics,” the government said.

India’s vaccination drive had begun in January for frontline workers. It was then expanded to include all people above 45 years of age.

Despite vaccinating over 12 crore people in less than three months, India remains well behind its target of covering over 25 crore people by July.

The country, for now, is administering two vaccines—Oxford and AstraZeneca’s Covishield, which is being manufactured by Serum Institute of India Ltd.; and Bharat Biotech Ltd.’s Covaxin. The country recently allowed Russia’s Sputnik V to be administered in India in hopes of easing the shortfall.

India is also inviting Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and others to seek emergency use approval of their vaccines as early as possible, VK Paul, who heads a panel advising Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the country’s inoculation efforts, had said at a press briefing on April 13.

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