(Eds: With updates) Mumbai, Apr 28 (PTI) Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday announced that the state has decided to vaccinate citizens in the age group of 18 to 44 against COVID-19 free of cost in government hospitals, even as a minister said the vaccination drive of this age group cannot be launched from May 1 due to unavailability of enough doses.
Thackeray made the announcement about free vaccines after chairing a cabinet meeting here.
Interacting with reporters after the meeting, Health Minister Rajesh Tope said the state will cover 5.71 crore citizens from this age group and it would cost Rs 6,500 crore to the government.
Tope, however, said the vaccination drive beginning May 1 cannot be launched in the state due to unavailability of sufficient number of vaccine doses.
But the state government plans to vaccinate the citizens in next six months in a planned manner, he added.
Tope made it clear that people in the age group of 18 to 44 years will receive free vaccines at state-run centres, but citizens will have to pay for the jabs at private facilities.
'The state is faced with financial problems, but top priority has been given to the health of the citizens. Hence, a decision has been taken in the cabinet meeting to provide free vaccines to all from 18 to 44 age group,' an official quoted Thackeray as saying.
'The vaccination will be planned based on how many vaccines are supplied (to the state). Further programme will be declared accordingly,' the CM added.
Tope said that people from this age group should register themselves on the Co-WIN app for getting inoculated and appealed against congregating at vaccination centres.
'We are all eager to know whether the vaccination will start from May 1. The answer is that the vaccination will not start from May 1. The reason is that (sufficient vaccines) are not available immediately with us today itself,' he said.
'...We are going to vaccinate for free. But we (18 to 44 age group citizens) will have to go about it with patience and sensibly. Using Co-WIN app is compulsory. You will have to take appointment and register yourself first,' Tope added.
The minister further said that a committee comprising health department representatives and some senior ministers will be formed to do micro-planning about implementing the vaccination programme.
'The committee will think whether people from the age group can be categorised like 18-25, 25-35 and 35-44 age. The committee will discuss whether the 35-44 age group can be vaccinated first or those with co-morbidity among these will be inoculated first,' he added.
Tope said that centres meant for vaccinating citizens from 18-44 age group will be separate from the ones meant for 45 and above age category.
'We need not hurry and congregate...We will have to take care that the vaccination centres do not turn into COVID spreading centres,' he said.
The minister further said that the Maharashtra government wants to bring herd immunity through 'aggressive vaccination' in the state to safeguard the people.
Replying to a question, Tope said the state government at present has available the option of purchasing vaccines only from manufactures of Covishield and Covaxin.
He said that Bharat Biotech, which produces Covaxin, has informed the Maharashtra government that it will provide vaccine at Rs 600 per dose and supply 10 lakh of those per month in May and June.
After that, it has stated that it will supply 20 lakh doses per month, Tope added.
On the other hand, the Covishield manufactures have informed orally that they can supply one crore vaccines per month, Tope said.
'Since we are getting Covaxin in lesser quantities, discussions are being held at the level of chief minister (on the use of) Russian vaccine Sputnik-V. If Sputnik-V vaccine is provided to us at appropriate price and in appropriate quantity, then that option will also be considered,' he added.
Tope further said Maharashtra may get supply of vaccines from manufacturers like Zydus Cadila and Johnson and Johnson during August.
The minister also urged BJP leaders from Maharashtra like (Union minister) Nitin Gadkari, Devendra Fadnavis and Pravin Darekar to reach out to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan to solve the issues relating to supply of crucial drug like Remdesivir, oxygen and vaccines for the state. PTI ENM NSK NP NP