The promise of covid vaccines for all adults beginning 1 May is likely to remain unfulfilled immediately as a severe shortage of vaccines prompts states and hospitals to defer inoculations that are currently open only to priority groups.
Complaints flooded social media on Tuesday after a glitchy start to registrations on the Co-Win website when users discovered they could sign up but not schedule vaccinations. The Twitter handle of the government’s Arogya Setu app later tweeted that the “minor glitch” was fixed, and people 18 years and above can book vaccination appointments once states and private centres schedule them.
The government said more than 8 million people registered on Co-Win on Wednesday, denying reports that its server crashed. Between 4pm and 7pm, 14.5 million text messages were delivered, a health ministry statement said, adding, the portal is recording 55,000 hits per second and is completely stable.
Many private hospitals are yet to be formally informed about the removal of age criteria, leading to numerous users being turned away while trying to book appointments. Private hospitals continue to wait for any notification from states on starting the vaccination drive in their respective centres.
“As on date, the private sector has no clarity about delivery of vaccine for 18+ population, who will be looking forward for vaccination from 1 May. We have suggested to the government that as there is very little time left to have dialogue with vaccine manufacturers, we should continue to get supply through states as presently being done,” said Girdhar J. Gyani, director general, Association of Healthcare Providers (India) (AHPI).
Private hospitals and some states are now looking to delay the start of vaccinations for all by about two weeks from the central government’s timeline of 1 May, as they continue discussions with vaccine makers. Maharashtra, which has India’s highest covid-19 caseload, on Wednesday said the 1 May target cannot be met due to vaccine shortage.
“Due to non-availability of vaccines at present, vaccination between the ages of 18 and 44 will not start from 1 May. The vaccine can only be obtained by registering on the Co-Win app, confirming the date and time,” state health minister Rajesh Tope’s office said, following similar statements by his counterparts in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Jharkhand. Rajasthan health minister Raghu Sharma on Sunday said: “Serum Institute told us that till 15 May, they may not even be able to complete the prior order of the Centre.”
Serum Institute of India is in talks to supply its Covishield vaccine to states and private hospitals, and some clarity is expected by Friday, a person aware of the matter said, adding the central government’s 1 May target may not be met.
Spokespersons for Serum and Covaxin-maker Bharat Biotech did not comment on the timeline for supplies to states and private hospitals.
“Discussions are in early stages and are still ongoing. Manufacturers are also trying to understand the order levels that would come from state governments and private hospitals and maybe try to balance it with the inventory and capacity they have. We would have some understanding of the situation may be in the next two weeks, and notable quantities are only likely to be available by end May or early June,” an executive at a large private hospital chain said on condition of anonymity. The hospital chain is in talks with Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech, as well as with Dr Reddy’s Laboratories for its yet-to-be-launched Sputnik V vaccine; however, it has not got any indication from the companies on the start of deliveries, the executive said.
“A few large corporates have approached us for administering vaccines to their employees and their families. But we are unable to commit any timeline for its start because we ourselves do not know when supplies will become predictable,” the executive added.
Officials at several major private hospital chains Mint spoke to said they do not see vaccinations for people between the ages of 18-44 starting from Saturday. Instead, they fear the situation might worsen in the early part of May, with private hospitals asked to return unused vaccine doses to the Centre at the end of Friday.
Kalpana Pathak in Mumbai contributed to the story.