Mumbai: Maharashtra still has 11.19 million unvaccinated residents, a majority of whom are in the age group of 18 to 45 years according to data compiled by the state health department.

The state has more 95.15 million beneficiaries — including the most recently added set, the 15-18 year-olds — and 11.75% are yet to receive the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, which is proven to stave off the worst of the disease in the ongoing pandemic. Of them, 9.34 million unvaccinated persons are in the age group of 18 to 45 years.

Nationally, 96.1% of the adults [18 years and above] have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while in Maharashtra, at least 89.44% of all adult beneficiaries have received the first dose.At least half of the unvaccinated populace belong to the 10 worst-performing districts — 1.02 million are in Thane, 850,000 in Nashik, 720,000 in Jalgaon, 670,000 in Ahmednagar and 650,000 in Nanded. As of January 14, nearly 82 million Maharashtra residents above 18 years have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

State inoculation officer Dr Sachin Desai attributed the low vaccination rate among the 18-45 age group — only 83.64% of this age group (57.1 million beneficiaries in all) has received their first dose in the state — to a few possible reasons. For one, the Centre only permitted vaccinating this age group starting May 1, after the national vaccination programme had already been rolled out to health care workers, frontline workers, senior citizens, and persons above 45 years with co-morbidities. What’s more, there was also a severe shortage in procuring vaccines from the Centre for the first few months after this age group was included in the national drive.

“It may be because the inoculation for this category was added late. There is no specific reason known for the hesitancy in this age group. We have been reaching out to all the beneficiaries under Har Ghar Dastak drive with request to come forward for the inoculation,” Dr Desai said.

The number gains significance in the wake of Omicron, the new variant of concern that is driving the third wave in the country. Citing data till January 6, Brihanmumbai Corporation (BMC) municipal commissioner Iqbal Chahal said last week that 96% of the people occupying oxygenated beds (1,900 at the time) were unvaccinated.

Dr Gautam Bhansali of the Bombay Hospital, who is also coordinator of all private hospitals in the city, said that the majority of patients occupying oxygen beds were unvaccinated and were in the age group of 40 to 50 years. This drives home the point that full vaccination is singularly important to prevent death and severe disease.

Thane district health officer Dr Manish Renge said that the corporation was trying to improve the percentage of first dose inoculation. “We find resistance in parts of rural Thane and Bhiwandi. We have roped in more personnel to reach out to the remaining beneficiaries. Awareness programmes are also being undertaken to convince people,” he said.

In Aurangabad, which has 560,625 adults who are yet to take even their first dose of the vaccine, district officials said that they were facing vaccine hesitancy. “Around 150,000 names in the list [of unvaccinated adults] are of the people migrated, dead or with duplicate entries. We have been involving religious scholars and preachers to convince their community members, but the response is low. Even the third wave has not helped,” Dr SS Shelke, district health officer said.

According to state health department officials, the emergence of the Omicron variant in November and the resultant surge in Covid-19 cases starting the third week of December ensured that more people went for their jab. The daily average of inoculation in July 2021 was 391,714; in November, it was 538,652 and in December it was 624,642.

“Despite efforts, a section of the society has been opposing vaccination. It is going to be quite difficult to convince the remaining percentage of beneficiaries who have not taken even their first dose,” an official of the state health department said, wishing to remain anonymous.

However, districts where social schemes required vaccination helped drive up the number of people getting jabs. In Mumbai, for instance, only those with double vaccination certificates are allowed to travel on the local trains, or enter malls, shopping centres and auditoriums. In Aurangabad, the public distribution system and other benefits have been linked to a person’s vaccination status. The Thane Municipal Corporation restricts people who are not fully vaccinated from travelling in state buses. In Nagpur, the municipal corporation does not allow anyone who is not doubly vaccinated to enter government offices.

However, vaccination is not mandatory. On Thursday, in a meeting between the prime minister and chief ministers of five states, state health minister Rajesh Tope requested the Central government to make the vaccination mandatory for all. “Some of our districts such as Aurangabad are lagging behind the state average. This has resulted in the state lagging behind the national average,” Tope said. CM Uddhav Thackeray was unable to attend the meeting and was substituted by the health minister.

Not all districts of Maharashtra are performing badly. Mumbai and Pune have 107% and 109% single dose vaccination of eligible citizens, according to the figures released by the state health department on Wednesday. At least 460,000 more people have taken their first dose in last three days. More than 35% or over 2.1 million of the 5.5 million beneficiaries in the age group of 15-18 years — whose inoculation was started on January 3 — have taken the jab in the last 10 days.

Dr Desai said that the state has a stock of over 10 million doses of Covishield and over 1.6 million doses of Covaxin. “We have been using Covaxin for the youngsters in the age group 15-18 years and in the wake of the response from this age group, we fear that there will be shortage of the jabs,” he said.

On Friday the ministry of health and family welfare clarified that there was no shortage of supply in Maharashtra. On Thursday, Tope had raised the demand of 5 million Covishield and 4 million of Covaxin doses citing the potential shortage with the addition of new age group to vaccination drive.


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