In a significant decision, the Maharashtra government has decided to give free Covid-19 vaccines to all in the 18-44 age group but deferred the vaccination drive from May 1 in view of shortage of supplies of the life-saver doses here on Wednesday.Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced the move after a state cabinet meeting decided to earmark a sum of Rs 6,500 crore for the ambitious plan.The cabinet also reviewed in detail the Covid-19 situation in the state, the ongoing vaccination drive, lockdown extension measures and related issues, he added.However, the ongoing vaccination of those in the 45-plus age group will continue as usual, said Health Minister Rajesh Tope."We don't have sufficient stocks of the vaccine now. We want to avoid a demand-supply gap so we will not start the vaccination for 18-44 age group from May 1. We will launch it as soon as enough stocks are created," Tope added.The government has set a target of six months to complete the vaccination of the 18-44 age group and a committee would be formed to look at micro-planning the entire process, he said.Thackeray said the citizens will be informed of the mega vaccination drive to be undertaken from May 1, depending on the supply of doses available from various sources, including imports if necessary.
"Despite the financial crisis confronting the state, the health of the people is of utmost priority for us which is why the state government has decided to provide free vaccinations to all between 18-44 age group," Thackeray added.Tope said currently the vaccines are available from the private Serum Institute of India (SII), Pune, and Bharat Biotech International Ltd. (BBIL), Hyderabad, and the state government is in touch with them for procuring more doses.BBIL has informed that it can give nearly 10 lakh doses per month over the next couple of months, later it would be doubled while SII has verbally informed of giving one crore doses per month, a day after it said it can supply only after May 20.While SII's Covishield will be sold to states at Rs 400 per dose, BBIL will sell it for Rs 600 per dose and the prices will be even higher for private hospitals, though the Centre on Monday appealed that both companies should consider slashing their rates.Tope said the state has an estimated 5.71 crore people in the 18-44 age group and needs nearly 12 crore vaccines over the next six months.To repeated queries, Tope said the vaccine would be administered free in government hospitals and will be chargeable in private hospitals.The government has reiterated that prior registration on the Co-WIN app is a must to ensure that there are no crowds at the vaccination centres."We have already crossed the half million doses per day mark and can go up to 8 lakh doses daily, but for that we need vaccines of which there is a shortage," Tope said.Besides the SII and BBIL, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government is also looking at procuring Sputnik V vaccine for which the state would seek help from the Centre.