The Tamil Nadu government will begin vaccinating individuals between 18 and 44 years of age starting May 20, the state’s health secretary said. "We are planning to start vaccination on May 20 or 21 in industrial clusters because numbers there are less," said Dr J Radhakrishnan, Principal Secretary (Health), Tamil Nadu, speaking exclusively to CNBC-TV18.
"When vaccination is being done on a portal and for specific age groups like 18-44, it’s better to target the allocation instead of looking at the general population," he added.
Tamil Nadu has so far been allocated only 13.85 lakh vaccines for its 18-44 age category. Of the allocation, the Centre has supplied a total of 9.62 lakh doses. While Tamil Nadu plans on compensating for the shortfall by floating a global tender, the job is harder than it seems.
'Existing vaccine manufacturers have over-committed supplies'
"To be honest, I’m not sure whether existing manufacturers will be able to participate in the tender since manufacturers of Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik for instance have over-committed their supplies to the Centre and various states," said Radhakrishnan,
"The way I see this happening is that companies will have to expand production and then decide if they can take up the tender. If another vaccine major receives approval from the Centre in the period leading up to June 5, it can also participate in the tender," he added.
Vaccine stocks have been hard to come by for the 45+ age category too. While the Centre has already allotted 77.49 lakh doses for Tamil Nadu, the state has already utilized 69.63 lakh vaccines. “When you distribute vaccines to over 3,000 centres, stocks become fairly sparse,” said Radhakrishnan.
Over the last few weeks, Tamil Nadu has recorded a record increase in active COVID-19 cases. As of May 17, the state reported a little over 33,000 fresh cases, even though its erstwhile COVID hotspot Chennai saw a slight decline in numbers. “There are pockets of concern like Coimbatore, Thiruvallur and Chengalpet, even as smaller districts like Ariyalur are seeing a uniform increase in the number of cases,” Radhakrishnan said.
While the state has been under a total lockdown, enforcing it is a whole other challenge. "Our focus has to be to ensure that in containment areas, people don’t move out and help break the chain of infection," the health secretary said.