Uptake of boosters in 18-59 age group remains low in Maharashtra
A month after booster doses were allowed for the population in the 18-59 age bracket through the private sector, Maharashtra has not managed to find a solution in districts where none of the private centres is stocking the vaccine
A month after booster doses were allowed for the population in the 18-59 age bracket through the private sector, Maharashtra has not managed to find a solution in districts where none of the private centres is stocking the vaccine. As many as 17 districts have not administered a single booster shot in this age group.
At least three states - Haryana, Delhi and Bihar - have rolled out free boosters for this age category through their own funds.
Booster doses or precautionary doses for healthcare workers, frontline workers, and people above 60 years were started on January 10. This category continues to get the vaccine shots for free in the public sector. The boosters for people between 18 and 59 years, rolled out on April 10, are available only in the private sector and cost around ₹350 per dose. As of Wednesday, the state had administered 1,484,50 boosters in the 18-59 age group.
“We follow the government of India guidelines, and free precautionary doses at government centres are not being contemplated,” additional chief secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas said, adding, “There is sufficient and strong scientific reason behind this public health policy.”
Due to the overall low demand for vaccines, the state has more than one crore doses in its regional depots and storage facilities. Last month, the state had written to the Centre asking for free doses for the 18-59 age category.
Private hospitals, on the other hand, are reluctant to stock the vaccine because of the low turnout as well as reduced costs. Low turnout often results in wastage of vaccines as it may become difficult to exhaust all doses once the vial is opened. Experts have said the drop in Covid-19 cases and cost obligation are also among the primary reasons for reluctance to take the booster shots.
“The state government should work on removing all barriers - be it cost, lack of awareness, logistical issues - in order to get more people to take the booster doses,” vaccination expert Dr Naveen Thacker said.
“The Centre has allowed boosters for the 18-59 population through the private sector. However, the Centre has not stopped the states from vaccinating this category through their own funds. States, individually, can very well take the initiative to increase the coverage of the boosters in this age group by administering the vaccine free of cost,” Thacker said, adding states could also push the private centres to start stocking some doses to increase availability.
According to Thacker, the 18-59 population is highly mobile, and in case a spurt of Covid-19 infection arises, the burden will eventually fall on the governments. “Why not be more forthcoming in prevention instead,” he said.
Soumitra Ghosh, associate professor at Centre for Health Policy, Planning and Management, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said there was a need for better evidence to understand the efficacy of booster doses, especially for the non-priority groups.
“What is the evidence related to breakthrough infections? How many of those who received two doses have contracted the infection again? And what is the hospitalisation rate among them? Was the disease severe? In the absence of such evidence, it may not be appropriate to recommend booster doses for the non-priority population groups,” he said.