- Those "without access to internet or smart phones" will be allowed
- India has administered around 19.6 crore doses of Covid vaccines so far
- Delhi, Maharashtra have initiated global tenders for import of vaccines
People in the 18-44 age group - who are "without access to internet or smart phones" - can walk-in for help to register on the CoWIN digital platform, and get appointments to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the centre said in a notification issued Monday afternoon.
It also said it will allow same-day walk-in registration and vaccination of "a few beneficiaries" in the 18-44 group, if doses meant for those who had pre-registered were left unused at the end of the day. This will minimise vaccine wastage, the centre said.
However, the centre left the decision to allow on-site CoWIN registration - for either reason - to individual state/UT governments. These decisions, the centre said, can be based on "local context".
Should state/UT governments decide to allow this, it can only be made available at government-run vaccination centres and not those run by private hospitals, the government added.
Similar facilities - walk-in registration and help to sign up on CoWIN - are already available for people over 45. This facility was delayed for the 18-44 group to avoid overcrowding, the centre said.
The notification comes amid a tidal wave of criticism over the government's vaccination drive, which has seen states forced to shut centres - specifically for the 18-44 age group - over a lack of doses.
It is unclear how people will be able to identify which centres have unused doses at the end of the day, leading to concerns there may be long queues outside vaccination centres as people wait for doses.
The government has been criticised for both delaying vaccination of the 18-44 group (vaccinations started January 16 but they became eligible May 1) and allowing doses to be exported. Posters questioning the Narendra Modi government on these grounds came up in Delhi last week.
Congress Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh took a swipe at the centre after its announcement today, demanding to know: "Where are the vaccines?"
"A vaccination policy that excludes more than it includes is bound to fail. That's why we said making CoWin registration mandatory for ages 18-44 is a huge mistake. While the Modi Govt seems to have made amends, the issue now is, WHERE ARE THE VACCINES?," he tweeted.
A vaccination policy that excludes more than it includes is bound to fail. That's why we said making CoWin registration mandatory for ages 18-44 is a huge mistake. While the Modi Govt seems to have made amends, the issue now is, WHERE ARE THE VACCINES?https://t.co/1NrGcNnNof— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) May 24, 2021
Experts believe vaccinating people in the 18-44 age group - the country's largest demographic - is key to being able to lift restrictions and try and re-start economic and commercial activity.
However, Delhi, on Saturday, became the latest state to suspend, or reduce, vaccination of that group due to a lack of doses. Others include Bengal, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
The lack of doses has also forced states to try and import vaccines directly from foreign manufacturers - a process that ran into a roadblock over the past 48 hours after US pharma giants Pfizer and Moderna told Delhi and Punjab that they will not deal with individual states.
Delhi, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have all initiated global tenders for import of vaccines, with varying degrees of success.
Vaccine availability has become a sore subject between some states and the central government as authorities battle to contain the devastating second Covid wave.
The centre says around two crore doses are still available with state/UTs. States, however, insist they have run out (or are running out) of doses, and have asked the centre to send more urgently.
According to data from the Health Ministry, 19.6 crore doses have been administered so far. The figure, though, is 57 per cent below production levels, according to central government data presented before the Kerala High Court on Monday.
India has so far cleared two vaccines - Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and Covishield - which is made by the Serum Institute and was developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford University.
A third - Russia's Sputnik V - has been approved for emergency use but has yet to be rolled out.