The coverage of the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines for people above 45 years is going at an alarmingly slow pace in Kerala.

A health worker administers a dose of COVID-19 vaccine to a woman at a vaccination centre in New Delhi. Representative image/PTI
Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine Thursday, May 27, 2021 - 20:55

On May 26 (Wednesday), out of the 562 COVID-19 Vaccine Centres (CVCs) across Kerala, 508 centres administered the Covishied vaccines and 54 centres gave Covaxin doses. According to the Kerala government’s COVID-19 vaccination bulletin issued on May 26, the state had a vaccine stock of only 47,750 doses of Covaxin and 1.62 lakh doses of Covishield, which were freely supplied by the Union Government to vaccinate the population above 45 years, health care workers and frontline workers. Although 2.24 lakh doses from the Union Government are in transit (en route to the state), the number of doses of each vaccine type is unclear. However, the massive shortage of Covaxin, the indigenously developed COVID-19 vaccine, raises concerns if Kerala has enough for people above 45 years of age, who are waiting for their second dose.

The state government has set a target to fully vaccinate 1.14 crore (1,13,75,715) people above 45 years of age. The vaccination drive for this age group began on March 1. As per the COVID-19 vaccination bulletin on May 26, a total of 56.27 lakh people in this age group have received the first dose (vaccine type has not been specified), and 12.24 lakh people have received the second dose. This means that 44.03 lakh people are yet to get their second dose, and only 22% of its target population has been fully vaccinated.

The data on how many people in this group received Covishield and Covaxin is not available. But, factoring in the vaccine stock per the dashboard, Kerala has only 2.10 lakh doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for this age group — 47,750 Covaxin doses and 1.62 lakh Covishield doses. Even if 2.24 lakh doses in transit are added to the equation, the stock can cover only 9.87% of the people who are yet to receive the second dose.

As a result of the vaccine shortage, the coverage of the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines for people above 45 years has been moving at an alarmingly slow pace. For instance, on May 25, 12,24,031 people got the second dose. The next day, on May 26, only 69 people across Kerala received the second dose. Similarly, between May 24 and May 25, only 99 people in the age group received the second dose.

Currently, Kerala, like many states, is focusing on vaccinating people above 45 years who are yet to receive the second shot. However, the Union Government recently extended the gap between two doses of Covishield to 12-16 weeks (three to four months), while the gap between the two doses of Covaxin, four weeks — one month — remains unchanged. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) head Dr Balram Bhargava told the Hindustan Times that Covishied provides greater immunity with the first dose for up to 12 weeks, while no such findings were available for Covaxin.

Going by this reasoning, people above 45 years, especially older citizens with health conditions, must receive both doses of Covaxin within the specified time for the vaccine to be effective. It must be noted that Indian citizens are not given the option to choose from the two types of COVID-19 vaccine; they will be administered the vaccine dose available in the centre they register with.

As many officials have been saying, Kerala is yet to receive its share of free vaccines from the Union government. Under the new vaccine policy, Kerala had to purchase fresh stocks of Covishield and Covaxin from Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech respectively, to meet the shortage. The state has also recorded zero wastage of vaccines due to the effective training of the health professionals. “Our main challenge is vaccine availability. We have been pressuring the Union government. So far, we have received 91 lakh vaccines, which include doses supplied by the Union government and the doses that the state has directly procured from the manufacturers. Of this, we have administered 86 lakh doses, and our wastage is almost negative. So, we are trying every possible way to maximise the vaccine coverage,” Kerala Health Minister Veena George told NDTV.

Since May 17, Kerala has been vaccinating people in the age group of 18 and 45 years, albeit only for priority groups, including those with comorbidities and those travelling abroad for job and education. Individuals in the 18-45 years age group can request priority vaccination here.  As on May 26, Kerala has a stock of 7.78 lakh doses of COVID-19 vaccines (1,19,700 Covaxin doses and 6,58,330 Covishield doses) for this age group, with 30,690 doses in transit.