Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar on Saturday said that the Uddhav Thackeray government is still considering opening free vaccinations for the 18-45 age group from May 1.
Pawar said that the government will take the final call on May 1, however, the state government will appeal to all “those who can afford it” to pay for vaccination. “Like the ‘Give up LPG subsidy campaign’, we can also appeal to those who can afford to pay for the vaccine,” Pawar said.
Meanwhile, a five-member committee led by chief secretary Sitaram Kunte has been set up by the Maharashtra cabinet to take decisions on “global tendering for Covid-19 vaccines and remdesivir without seeking any clearance”, The Times of India reported.
Last week, Maharashtra will import vaccines from other countries and funds will be diverted from all the departments to carry out an extensive inoculation drive on the lines of the UK, the state government said on Tuesday.
The state is worst-affected by the coronavirus pandemic in the country with more than 50,000 cases being reported daily in the last two weeks.
CM Thackeray is also in talks with Covaxin manufacturer Bharat Biotech.
Welcoming the Union government’s decision to vaccinate the entire adult population of the country, Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope said the state cabinet on Tuesday decided to carry out an “exemplary vaccination drive". “If required, we will cut the funds of all the other departments to ensure availability of vaccines for people," he said after a cabinet meeting.
Tope had earlier said the state wanted to vaccinate seven lakh persons every day but restrictions imposed by the Centre and supply constraints made it possible to inoculate only about three lakh. The state would like to follow the example of the United Kingdom which had witnessed a severe spike in COVID-19 cases last year, he said.
“Today, 60 per cent of UK’s population is vaccinated. Very few new cases are being detected, while the death toll is in single digits. The entire country was kept under lockdown for three months and the vaccination drive was carried out on a massive scale," he said.
“We have decided to cut the expenses of all the departments and divert the funds for vaccine procurement. We will not limit our plans only to the two vaccines that are manufactured in the country (Covishield and Covaxin) ," he said.
The minister said that the state government will bid for vaccines made abroad such as Sputnik-V, Pfizer and Moderna if they are available. “The state’s vaccination drive will cover people in the age group of 18 to 45, while people above 45 will be covered under the Centre’s drive for which doses will be supplied by the Centre," he said.
Tope said that the cabinet also asked the state chief secretary and principal secretaries of finance, health and medical education departments to expedite the procurement of medical equipment to tackle the pandemic.