India is witnessing the worst outbreak of COVID-19 recorded anywhere in the world since the beginning of the pandemic. With more than 28 lakh active cases of COVID-19, the country is struggling to keep its healthcare and medical system intact. Across India, there is an acute shortage of hospital beds, medical oxygen, and life-saving medicines.
In order to bring the outbreak under control, the central Government has recently decided to expedite the COVID-19 vaccination programme. The Government has announced the commencement of phase 3 of the COVID-19 vaccination programme from May 1. Under the new phase, the eligibility criteria for vaccination have been expanded significantly.
The main elements of the Liberalised and Accelerated Phase 3 Strategy of the National Covid-19 Vaccination programme are listed below:
- From May 1, the COVID-19 vaccines will be made available to all adult citizens i.e. those aged 18 years and above all across India.
- Unlike people aged 45 years and above, individuals in the 18-45 age bracket will only be able to register for vaccination via the CoWIN platform or Aarogya Setu app. They will not be eligible for walk-in COVID-19 vaccination. The online registration for people in the 18-45 age group would begin on April 28.
- Vaccine makers will be required to supply 50% of their monthly Central Drugs Laboratory (CDL) released vaccine doses to the central government. They would be authorized to supply the remaining 50% doses to state governments and private hospitals.
- States will be allowed to procure additional vaccine doses directly from the vaccine manufacturers. They will also be permitted to open up vaccination to any category of people above the age of 18 for the same.
- Vaccine makers will be required to make an advance declaration of the price for 50% supply that would be provided to the state governments and private hospitals before May 1, 2021. Since the announcement, the Serum Institute of India (SII) has set the purchase price of its Covishield vaccine at Rs 400/dose and Rs 600/dose for state governments and private hospitals, respectively. On the other hand, Bharat Biotech, the company that manufactures Covaxin, has announced that it will charge Rs 600/dose and Rs 1200/dose from state governments and private hospitals, respectively.
- Vaccination will remain free of cost for all existing priority groups i.e. healthcare workers, frontline workers, and people aged 45 years and above at the Government of India vaccination centres.
- All vaccination, either through central Government or state Government, would be part of the National Vaccination Programme. As such, it would be mandated to follow all protocols such as being captured on the CoWIN platform, linked to AEFI reporting, and all other prescribed norms.
- The central Government has said that priority will be accorded to the second dose of healthcare workers, frontline workers, and people aged 45 years and above. A specific and focused strategy would be communicated to all stakeholders in this regard soon.
- The central Government will continue to provide its share of vaccines free of cost to the state Governments. The vaccines from the central government quota will be distributed to states on the basis of criteria such as the extent of infection (number of active COVID-19 cases), performance (speed of administration), and vaccine wastage. Based on the above criteria, the state-wise vaccine quota would be earmarked and communicated to the states in advance.
- The cost of vaccination for people in the 18-45 age group is likely to vary across different states. Many states have announced that they will provide free COVID-19 vaccine from May 1; however, others are yet to take a call in this regard.