Mumbai, Apr 28 (PTI) A slowdown in the ongoing vaccination drive in Maharashtra, battling a savage surge in COVID-19 cases, will potentially pave the way for a third wave of the infection in the state, health experts warned on Wednesday.
The warning came on a day when the Maharashtra government said it is not going to start the vaccination drive from May 1 for the 18-44 age group because of unavailability of sufficient doses.
Health Minister Rajesh Tope has already expressed concern over the inadequate supply of vaccines for Maharashtra, the state worst-hit by the pandemic, amid reports of a shortage of doses for the existing beneficiaries (45-plus people), putting the inoculation drive on a slow track.
The true curbing of COVID-19 can happen only if two thirds of the population eligible for vaccination is covered under the inoculation drive.
'Out of 9 crore people eligible for vaccination in Maharashtra, we have just covered over 1.50 crore so far, which is negligible,' said a senior official from state health department.
He pitched for fast-tracking the inoculation drive which began on January 16 with healthcare professionals and was later extended to cover frontline workers and people in the 45-plus age group.
'If we do not accelerate the pace of vaccination, sooner or later people will venture out for jobs and other work and this could invite the third wave of COVID-19, he warned.
Relaxation of measures in December made people careless and this triggered the second wave of COVID-19 from February. We are still suffering from it.
'If we do not vaccinate a major chunk of the population quickly, we will be rolling out the red carpet for the third wave, the health department official said.
In April so far, the state has added 15,53,922 fresh COVID-19 cases and 11,281 deaths.
Tope on Wednesday said, The Maharashtra government is unlikely to get vaccines from Bharat Biotech or Serum Institute of India before May 20.
'In that case, we can not start vaccination for the 18-44 age group from May 1. We will have to wait for the third week of May.
A member of the state task force on COVID-19 said with more vaccines in hand, Maharashtra could have inoculated a large number of people.
'There will be several hurdles in the monsoon to carry out the drive, including heavy rains and landslides,' he said.
A Congress leader said the COVID-19 situation is alarming but 'we are wasting a golden opportunity to inoculate as many people as possible in the summer'.
If we go by the health ministers projection of six- month period required to inoculate 5.5 crore population in the state, then we can not expect current strict measures to remain in force for such a long period,' the leader said.
A scientist involved in genome sequencing of the novel coronavirus said if the virus keeps mutating, it will defeat the purpose of vaccination.
If we spend such a long time for vaccination, we may find new mutations or variants of COVID-19 which would be immune to the vaccine,' he said. PTI ND RSY RSY