Assam CM asks officials to complete flood protection schemes within May
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma

The latest phase of COVID-19 vaccination may be delayed by a week, Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Monday. So far, vaccination has been slow, with only 4,36,143 persons fully inoculated as per the official website statistics at 6 pm on Monday, even as the number of positive cases has seen a spike over the past week.

Sarma, in a candid admission, told the media on Monday that the government has placed orders with Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute for vaccines. 

“When they provide us the vaccines, only then can we begin the vaccination,” he said, adding how the Government of India has given guidelines that vaccine distribution would depend on the caseload in states and districts. Sarma mentioned that vaccination was unlikely to begin in the first week of May.

While the Government of India is procuring vaccines and distributing it to states for the vaccination of vulnerable groups, including health workers, frontline workers, and those over 45 years, the states and private hospitals have been asked to procure the vaccines directly to inoculate the 18-45-year olds. 

A senior state government official said they are in touch with vaccine manufacturers on an everyday basis. “They haven’t given us a confirmation yet,” this official said, adding how Assam was among the first states to approach the vaccine manufacturers. 

A second official said the state government is expecting a million doses to arrive latest by May 10. 

Sarma had earlier said that funds with Arogya Nidhi—a scheme for financial assistance to families below the poverty line and those whose income is less than Rs 10,000 a month for treatment of some diseases, would be utilised to procure vaccines. Assam was among the first states to announce free vaccination for the 18-45 age group. 

When asked how the government plans to fund the vaccine procurement since Arogya Nidhi funds, which currently stand at less than Rs 115 crore might be insufficient, the first official quoted above said, “it will be done from the state budget.” 

Also Read: Centre OKs 13 new oxygen plants for the northeast, none for Assam

Meanwhile, Assam continues to struggle with slow vaccination. As per Co-WIN, the official portal which keeps a real-time record of vaccinations across the country, only 20,90,385 doses were administered in the state. This includes 16,53,194 persons who have taken the first dose and 4,37,191 who have taken both doses of the vaccine. 

In comparison, Kerala has administered 69,87,999 doses, more than three times the numbers in Assam. In Gujarat, the number of doses administered stands at 1,17,08,201, Punjab (30,80,828), Chhattisgarh (54,04,938), Haryana (35,90,648). Even in Jammu and Kashmir, a total of 21,15,521 doses have been administered as per Co-WIN. 

A third senior official directly involved with vaccination said the state’s people were initially hesitant about getting vaccinated. “Now, its’ the opposite,” the official said, adding how vaccination centres have seen a rush but due to lack of manpower only a certain number could be inoculated. This official explained that healthcare workers have been deployed on other duties, including testing, which has led to some crunch. 

The state has faced a shortfall in supply this month. On Sunday, Sarma tweeted that the state had 3,35,080 doses in its stock. 

Meanwhile, the government is mulling using volunteers to scale up the vaccination in the next phase. “We will have to do something. We are working on it,” this official said. 

The number of active COVID-19 positive cases rose to 15, 470 on Sunday, with 1,844 new cases. As many as 2,547 persons have died after being infected with the virus as per the National Health Mission. 

Sarma assured on Monday that the state is amply prepared to deal with a surge in cases even as health infrastructure is being further shored up. 

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