Vaccination facilities at schools to be expanded to 45-plus age group: Jain

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New Delhi, May 14 (PTI) Vaccination facilities at schools in Delhi will be expanded to include beneficiaries in the age group of 45 and above, as these centres are clean, spacious and conducive for maintaining social distancing, Health Minister Satyendar Jain said on Friday.

In a statement issued by the health department, he was also quoted as saying that it was 'quite strange' that after exporting nearly 6.5 crore COVID vaccines to various countries, the Centre is now asking the states to purchase it from the international market.

He also claimed that the recent Kumbh Mela was being told as the 'reason behind the spread of COVID-19 to rural areas', where people went in large numbers and got infected from there.

'The Delhi government schools are clean, spacious and airy, and thus social distancing can be enforced well. We received a thunderous response for vaccination, in the 18-44 age group, and hence have decided to expand it for inoculation of people in the 45 and above age group as well,' he said.

Delhi on Friday recorded 8,506 COVID-19 cases, the daily count dipping to below the 10,000-mark again after a month, with medical experts attributing the lockdown as the main factor behind the dip amid the second wave of the pandemic.

The positivity rate also reduced to about 12 per cent, according to the latest health bulletin.

Jain said positivity rate in Delhi has declined 'but we cannot afford to be complacent, and must follow all COVID-appropriate behaviours'.

On the availability of vaccines, he claimed that Delhi is facing an 'acute shortage' of sufficient number of doses, wherein the stock for Covaxin has completely finished for the 18-44 age group, and said the centres administering it have been temporarily shut down.

On the recent statement by the Centre on the gap between first and second doses been extended up to 12-16 weeks, he said, 'it will be abided by us, once intimated by the authorities concerned'.

On the global tender for vaccines, he said, “The three vaccines which have been approved for inoculation in India are -- Covishield, Covaxin, and Sputnik V. I would like to reiterate what I stated yesterday, that India is one nation, and one tender policy should be implemented, rather than a state-wise tender, which will only create more confusion and heat between states which are going to procure vaccines'.

'A state-wise tender will also put India in a bad light. Like there is one Indian embassy in each country, there should be one tender for the procurement of vaccines from this international market. Nonetheless, I believe that India has the most renowned vaccine manufacturers in the world,' he was quoted as saying in the statement.

He said he was aware of at least 30 prominent companies who have the capacity to prepare them if they are given the required formula from the makers of Covishield and Covaxin. The Centre itself is an owner of Covaxin, and may submit the formula to other companies so that they are equipped to make the vaccines by themselves, the minister added.

'At the same time, the Centre has exported nearly 6.5 crore vaccines to various countries. Now, they are asking us to purchase them from these international markets, which is quite strange and uncanny,' he said.

Jain also asserted that since the supply of Tocilizumab is controlled by the Centre, they have mandated only 1,000 units per month, whereas the demand is much more. The order passed by the Delhi government on Thursday that enumerates formation of an expert committee is to mobilise and streamline the supply effectively, the minister said.

'The two companies making Covishield and Covaxin have been given the opportunity to generate high profits during this time of the crisis. The company has itself claimed that it is incurring profits through sale at Rs 150 also,' he alleged.

'So, why is that sale being done at higher rates to state governments and private entities. These enormous windfall gains are being made by the companies at a time when the nation is grappling with the virus. The rate must be capped at Rs 150 for all, and if possible, must be reduced as well,' Jain was quoted as saying in the statement.

On the drug management, he said, for Remdesivir and Tocilizumab, all the management and control is in the hands of the central government, which are supplied to hospitals through a website managed by the Centre. The state-wise distribution is also being controlled by the Centre.

The Centre has mandated hardly 1,000 units of Tocilizumab injection in one month, which means hardly 30 units per day, while the demand is much more than this. 'Thus, we have passed the order and formed the expert committee to streamline the supply effectively and mobilise it,' he said.

On the spread of COVID-19 in rural parts of the country, Jain said, 'In the previous three waves that Delhi faced, we hardly saw any COVID cases coming from the villages in the countryside. But in this wave, we have seen a number of cases. The entire nation is in fact tackling the spread in rural areas'.

'It is being widely told that the reason behind this spread in villages and rural areas has been the Kumbh Mela wherein people went in large numbers. The Delhi government is indeed tackling the situation and the South Delhi district alone is doing 10,000 tests in a single day,' he claimed. PTI KND KJ

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