The central government on Monday issued fresh guidelines for the third phase of COVID-19 vaccination drive across the country from May 1, saying everyone above the age of 18 will be eligible to receive jabs. 

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This comes with the country witnessing a record surge in COVID-19 cases, over 2.7 lakh new cases on Monday. 25 lakh cases were added in just 15 days in the country with several states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab and Rajasthan have demanding that the age restriction of 45 years be removed for the vaccination.

The Centre said the procurement, eligibility and administration of vaccines for the third phase will be made more flexible as it aims to curb the spread of the virus.

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Vaccine manufacturers will be incentivised to ramp-up production, while new national and international players will be roped in to increase availability of shots. Additionally, vaccine manufacturers will be empowered to release up to 50% of their supply to state governments and open markets at a pre-determined price. 

“The private vaccination providers would need to transparently declare their self-set vaccination price and the eligibility through this channel would be opened up to all adults, that is everyone above the age of 18,” an official statement said.

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States will also be allowed to acquire vaccines directly from suppliers. 

The second dose for priority recipients – healthcare, frontline workers and people above the age of 45 – will also get precedence over others in the third phase of vaccination. 

Active cases surpassed the 19-lakh mark in the country, while the nationwide tally of COVID-19 cases mounted to 1,50,61,919 with a record single-day rise of 2,73,810 coronavirus infections, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Monday.

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The death toll increased to 1,78,769 with a record 1,619 daily new fatalities, the data updated at 8 AM showed.

The Union Health Ministry said the important decisions for liberalising the vaccination drive including allowing all above 18 years of age to take the jabs were taken in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who called the vaccine as the biggest weapon in the fight against COVID-19 and urged doctors to encourage more patients to get the jabs.

Prime Minister Modi has also called a meeting with vaccine manufacturers on Tuesday, sources said.