People between 18 and 44 years, who become eligible for inoculation on May 1, can choose their preferred vaccines at private centres that will make public the options available with them, RS Sharma, the chairperson of an empowered committee on Covid-19 vaccination, told CNN-News18 in an interview on Thursday.
Till April 30, health care and frontline workers as well as 45-year-olds and above were eligible to get the shot under a central government-sponsored drive. Beneficiaries did not have the option to choose between Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covishield, the two vaccines currently available in India.
"The government centres will continue to vaccinate (beneficiaries with) whatever vaccines they are getting. And obviously if they are giving the second dose, they will also have to ensure that the second dose is of the same vaccine as the first dose. Private centres (where people will pay for the jabs) will declare as to which vaccines they are (using for) vaccinating, and what are the price of those vaccines," said Sharma, also the chief of India's CoWin platform that is being used for the inoculation drive.
"The CoWin portal will be able to show the prices and the vaccine types (at private centres)," Sharma added, explaining that this will help beneficiaries choose the vaccines they want.
From May 1, vaccine-makers can sell 50% of what they produce directly to states and private players, while the rest will have to go to the Centre for the ongoing government-sponsored campaign that will remain limited to the 45+ age group, and health care and frontline workers.
Vaccines are free at government centres in the ongoing drive, while one dose costs Rs 250 at private centres. But the 18-44 population will have to buy the vaccines as they get accommodated in the massive drive, even as several states have declared free doses at state government centres.
Those opting for private facilities, however, will have to bear the cost. Serum Institute of India (SII), which makes Covishield in India, has fixed the prices at Rs 300 a dose for state governments and Rs 600 a dose for private hospitals. Bharat Biotech has fixed the prices of Covaxin at Rs 400 a dose for state governments and at Rs 1,200 per dose for private hospitals.
In the interview, Sharma also said the 2.45 crore people between 18 and 44 years who registered on CoWin platform for vaccination — from 4pm on April 28, when the process began, till Thursday morning — will have to depend on the availability of vaccines at the state level to get the jabs. Several states, including worst-hit Maharashtra, has said they cannot inoculate the 18-44 age group immediately due to shortage of vaccines.
"That particular segment of population (45+) for which the government of India is supplying vaccines to the state governments…those vaccinations shall continue as before…for the other group (18-44), vaccination is starting tomorrow (May 1)…State governments, hospitals, entities will continue to come on board depending when they get the vaccines; then they will declare the seats and then people will start getting vaccinated…," Sharma said.
He added that authorities had two options: to begin the registration of beneficiaries before the May 1 cut-off date or to wait for states and hospitals to procure vaccines. He said the government chose the first because in a "large country like India" not everybody will come on board at the same time.
"My expectation is that tomorrow some states will come on board and some hospitals may also come on board…they will start vaccinating…," he said. He stressed the everywhere people will not get the vaccines "simultaneously" because that will depend on when "state governments and private centres are able to procure the vaccines and deploy them".
Sharma clarified that registrations will have no role in prioritising the vaccination process of a beneficiary. Rather, vaccinations will happen on "first come first reserve" basis. "If you are looking at the slots and if you get them reserved for yourself, then your seat is confirmed…it will not operate based on who has registered first," he said.
In an earlier interview with CNN-News18, Sharma had said registering on the CoWin platform and scheduling an appointment were two different things, adding that those between 18 and 44 years will have to "book their appointments through those facilities" that will vaccinate this age group. "We are actually requesting those facilities also (to register)," he had said on April 22.
"In case they (the facilities) are not doing it (vaccination) for what you call a captive audience, which is an industry group doing it for its employees etc…unless they are doing that, they need to make public the time table. So that people are able to see as to which facilities are available for vaccination," he had said.
Separately, ahead of the next phase, the government has also clarified that walk-in registration and vaccinations are not allowed for the 18-44 group. At present, the vaccination drive allows on-site registrations, apart from those done through CoWin.
The rush at vaccination centres is expected to increase sharply in view of the move to expand the vaccination programme at a time when the country is reeling from a brutal second wave of infections that is setting grim records every passing day.
India's vaccination drive began on January 16 for health care workers. It was gradually expanded to accommodate front line workers, and then the population above 60 years and those above 45 years with underlying health conditions, or comorbidities. From April, the comorbidity clause was removed, making all above 45 eligible for the shot. Finally, India became one of the few countries to open the vaccination drive to all adults.