TN to provide COVID-19 vaccine free of cost for those above 18 years from May 1

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Chennai, Apr 22 (PTI) The Tamil Nadu government on Thursday said it will provide free COVID-19 vaccination for all from May 1, when the next phase of inoculation drive covering all above 18 years would start.

The announcement comes a day after major vaccine maker Serum Institute of India announced a price of Rs 400 per dose for its COVID-19 vaccine 'Covishield' for State governments and Rs 600 per dose for private hospitals.

Incidentally, Chief Minister K Palaniswami had last year announced that the government will provide the vaccine free of cost once it was ready and beneficiaries in the earlier phases--senior citizens and those above 45 with comorbidities and all over 45 years of age-- have been inoculated at government hospitals at no cost.

Announcing the vaccination camp for those aged 18-45 years from next month as part of the third phase of the inoculation drive, the state government said districts which were the most affected by the pandemic will be prioritised in conducting the free camps.

Calling upon people to utilise the opportunity, an official release from the government said the vaccination would help build immunity in the population.

All sections of people in the 18-45 years age group, including those working at markets, traders, vendors, hotel and restaurant employees, auto and taxi drivers, government employees, school and college teachers, migrant workers and transport workers, would be covered during this massive drive.

Vaccination will continue as before in the government vaccination centres free of cost to the eligible population above 45 years, the statement said.

Further, the infection rate, which was brought below one per cent in January and February this year, increased to 10.4 per cent since the last five weeks.

Chennai, Chengalpattu, Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram, Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Tiruvarur, Trichy and Nagapattinam, which saw a spike in cases, added to the caseload.

The ramping up of the RT-PCR tests to 1,15,000 per day facilitated the identification of about 12,000 cases per day now, the release said.

'Tamil Nadu is the only state in the country to have conducted 2.15 crore RT-PCR tests,' it said.

Chief secretary Rajeev Ranjan, who reviewed the pandemic situation along with senior government officials and district collectors through video conference from the secretariat, said the government had spent Rs 305.04 crore last year in providing beds with oxygen facility for the Coronavirus patients.

The oxygen storage facility in the state was enhanced to 888 metric tonnes from 395 MT. Government hospitals and the private sector together account for 1,167 MT oxygen storage facilities.

Steps will be taken to ensure oxygen is made available to the patients without any bottlenecks. Owing to the increasing need for medical oxygen to treat the covid infected persons, the government has decided to grant temporary permits to industrial units to produce medical oxygen, the release added.

Issuing a slew of directives, Ranjan said the number of beds with oxygen should be increased on 'war-footing' by collectors, even as Rs 61 crore has been sanctioned towards maintenance of Covid Care Centers.

Testing should be increased so as to achieve an infection rate of less than five per cent, he said and directed that there be an increased and aggressive testing in affected areas where the results should be given within 24 hours.

About 49.23 lakh persons were vaccinated till April 21. A whopping Rs 11.51 crore was obtained as fine from those who violated the COVID norms, the government said. PTI JSP SA BN BALA SA BN BALA