Patna: Satyendra Kumar Kushwaha, a 27-year-old newspaper vendor, was disappointed on Wednesday when he reached at a vaccination centre in Danapur on the outskirts of Patna to get the first jab of COVID vaccine but was informed by the healthcare staff that there would be no vaccination for people of 18 to 44 years of age.
Satyendra, who was excited for the past two days to get vaccinated, returned to his home in Phulwari Sharif with uncertainty over vaccination. He said he would visit the vaccination centre next week because there was a confusion over when the inoculation for below 45 age group would start .
“I was keen to get the first shot of COVID vaccine as a must. But contrary to my expectation, the vaccination has been stopped for lack of vaccine doses. I do not know when I will get vaccinated as health staff of the vaccination centre have no answer for it,” said Satyendra.
The Bihar government has halted vaccination for the 18 to 44 years of age group from May 19 due to lack of vaccines in the state. Vaccination at all the 10 vaccination centres in Patna and hundreds of vaccination centres across the state were stopped as vaccine is not available. “Non availability of vaccine forced to halt the vaccination drive,”a health department official told Newsclick.
According to health department officials, ongoing vaccination for people above 45 years of age will continue as usual in the government-run hospitals as vaccine doses for them are adequate in the storage.
Satyendra is not alone as there are thousands of youths like him across the state who are upset after the vaccination stopped.
The Nitish Kumar-led government last month announced to vaccinate 5.46 crore people of 18 to 44 years of age but it is a big challenge as there is uncertainty over availability and supply of vaccines. It is also evident as vaccination for this age group was halted ten days after it was started.
Earlier, the government postponed the vaccination drive scheduled from May 1 in view of unavailability of vaccine doses. On April 30, Bihar State Health Society, a government agency in Patna, informed that that the ongoing registration for vaccination would continue and the vaccination would start from the second week of May.
The government has started a vaccination drive for the 18-44 age group since May 9, a day after the first consignment of 3.4 lakh vaccine doses reached here. This consignment of vaccine doses lasted for a week but the government is hopeful to receive more vaccine doses this month.
Health department Additional Chief Secretary, Pratay Amrit said that the next vaccine assignment of 6,89,250 doses will arrive in the state between May 20 to 24. “The government is alert and serious about arranging for the supply of vaccine doses for the 18 to 44 years age group,” he said.
Amrit said that Bihar is expected to receive 17.34 lakh more vaccine doses by June 1. It will include 10.45 lakh of vaccine doses for people above 45 years of age and 6,89,250 vaccine doses for people of 18 to 44 years of age.
As per official data of the health department, as of now, a total of 93,10,946 lakh people, including 8,69,932 people of the 18-44 years age group, have been vaccinated in the state. The vaccination drive started on January 16 this year in the state--first for people above 45 years of age followed by others. “In the last four months, the vaccination drive has been slow in Bihar as not even 1 crore of nearly 12 crore total population is vaccinated yet,” Dr Sunil Kumar, official of IMA Bihar, said.
Dr Kumar said that it was a challenging task to vaccinate all people, particularly those between 18 to 44 years of age, as it depended on the supply of vaccine doses on time. “At present, the supply is very slow. The government needs to focus on increasing its supply on large scale if it wants to vaccinate all,” he said.
State health department special secretary, Manoj Kumar, said that last month the government had placed an order for one crore Covishield vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India (SII). Besides, an order was also placed for the supply of Covaxin from Bharat Biotech.
“The state has received the first consignment of Covishield and more consignments will arrive soon to continue the vaccination that started recently. But Covaxin supply is yet to reach, hope it will come soon,” Kumar said.
The state health minister Mangal Pandey has repeatedly claimed that all in the age group of 18-44 will be vaccinated in the state. His claims raised many eyebrows among the health experts, doctors as well as common people because the state has so far received less than 0.62 % of total requirement of vaccines.
Apart from the availability of vaccine doses, other problems facing the state are poor health infrastructure and a manpower crunch. With their entire focus on handling the COVID crisis, the government agencies are in dilemma about how to increase the number of vaccination centres and engage more health workers to ensure vaccination at a large scale.
However, the state government has decided to vaccinate all those without any identity card (Aadhaar or Election Commission of India). Till date it was mandatory to produce an identity card for getting the vaccine. In view of ensuring vaccination to all, the government has changed its rule and directed its Task Force to identify all such people with identity cards.
Health officials said that a large population of young people above 18 years of age consist of sadhu-sant, beggars, prisoners in jails, and mentally challenged people who have no identity card and would be deprived of vaccination if not vaccinated without identity proofs. The government will set up a separate vaccine centres for vaccination for all such people, they informed.