Indian citizens who are 18 years or older will be eligible for Covid-19 vaccines starting May 1, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on the Press Information Bureau website.
“In a meeting chaired by [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi, an important decision of allowing vaccination to everyone above the age of 18 from 1st May has been taken,” the statement noted. “He added that India is vaccinating people at world record pace& we will continue this with even greater momentum.”
This comes as a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has swept the country. India has recorded a total of 15,061,919 Covid-19 cases and 178,769 deaths, according to the health ministry.
India added a million new cases in less than a week, surpassing 14 million total cases on Thursday.
It is unclear whether the world’s second most populous country, with 1.4 billion people, has the supply required to meet the demand.
Currently, only people who are health care workers, front line workers or 45 years and older are eligible to get vaccinated and already, vaccine supplies have dried up on the ground, with at least five states reporting severe shortages and urging the federal government to act.
With this latest announcement, India’s vaccination campaign will be split into two strands. Government centers will continue to give free vaccines only to health care workers and frontline workers and those who are 45 or older. Private vaccination providers will be able to charge and provide vaccines to everyone aged 18 or older.
India will allow foreign-manufactured vaccines to be entirely utilized by the “open market” or private vaccination providers.
Under the “Liberalised and Accelerated Phase 3 Strategy of the National Covid-19 Vaccination program,” vaccine manufacturers would supply 50% of their monthly doses to the central government and would be free to supply the remaining 50% doses to state governments and in the open market.
The government has been taking steps to expand its vaccine availability. Last week, it fast-tracked emergency use authorization for Covid-19 vaccines approved in other countries.
India produces more than 60% of all vaccines sold globally, and is home to the Serum Institute of India (SII,) the world’s largest vaccine maker. The country has been working with COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing initiative that provides discounted or free doses for lower-income countries.
However, in the face of this crisis, the government and SII have shifted focus to prioritizing their own citizens at home.