Expansion of vaccination age groups led to shortage of jabs: COVID panel chief

There is enough vaccine even now to inoculate frontline workers and those above 45 years, says Dr NK Arora

Vaccination
The government had prioritised vaccination by age-group primarily to reduce mortality

The decision to expand the COVID-19 vaccination programme to those aged 18 to 45 has caused shortage of vaccines in the country, according to the chairman of the Centre’s COVID-19 working group.

The government had prioritised vaccination by age-group primarily to reduce mortality; it should have deferred the decision to expand that criteria, Dr NK Arora told NDTV news channel in an interview on Saturday.

There is enough vaccine even now to inoculate frontline workers and those above 45 years, he said.

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“Expanding the age group to 18-45… clearly there is no vaccine available, there is a shortage. I would say this [expansion] should have been deferred for a while,” Dr Arora said.

“In a simple way, prioritisation was done sometime in September/October last year. And it was very clear, as per the availability, that the immediate purpose of vaccination will be to reduce morbidity and mortality. And, obviously, the highest-risk population is to be targeted,” he said.

That is why frontline workers and those above 45 were prioritised for inoculation, said Dr Arora, who is also a member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.

“And even today, there is sufficient vaccine to take care of them till July, and 50-55 crore doses will be available for them,” he said.

Dr Arora also had a word of caution for state government issuing global tenders for vaccines, saying there are “hardly any vaccines” available abroad.

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“Many of us feel that vaccines will come if we put out tenders, but that is not correct. There is hardly any vaccine available globally because these are highly committed manufacturing, cornered by some of the high-income countries,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Centre, which has come under criticism for its handling of the pandemic, announced that it hoped to have more than 200 crore doses of vaccines between August and December.

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