With several states experiencing a second wave of surge in Covid-19 cases, the Union Cabinet Tuesday decided to further open up the vaccination, making every person above the age of 45 years eligible for a vaccine shot from April 1.
On Tuesday, the Centre also made changes to the Co-WIN platform and communicated to states that unlike earlier, when the second dose of the vaccine would be scheduled for Day 29, beneficiaries will have the discretion to choose the date of the second dose within the extended interval of 4-8 weeks.
While the third phase of vaccination, for those above 45, will have the largest age cohort to be made eligible for the phase-wise administration of the vaccine so far, top sources told The Indian Express that the government will aim for a strategy of targeting subgroups among those above 45 years — such as teachers, the corporate sector, government sector, etc — in a bid to curb super-spreader events triggering the surge.
“We don’t have any estimation (of the number of beneficiaries between 45-60). Once you have this kind of conjecture, we will have artificial numbers floating around. Our aim is that everyone above 45 years should be vaccinated,” a source said.
“The good part about this is that a significant section of the population in this age group is, in a sense, a captive target. So if we vaccinate all teachers 45 and above, or all corporate sector employees, and all government employees, then the super-spreaders are curbed to that extent,” the source added.
After the Cabinet decision, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to the states that self-registration for those above 45 will open on the Co-WIN website from April 1. “Special focus should be given on optimal utilisation of the capacity of Covid-19 vaccination centres while minimising the wastage of vaccines,” Bhushan wrote.
Union Minister of Information & Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar said the decision to further open the vaccination programme for the general population was taken on the basis of the advice of the National Task Force on Covid-19.
On March 1, the Centre had opened the vaccination drive for the general population, starting with those above 60 years of age and those above 45 with specific co-morbidities.
“On the basis of the scientific evidence and the advice given by the Covid-19 task force, the decision has been taken that from April, any person above the age of 45 years can get vaccinated even if the beneficiary doesn’t have any co-morbidity. We hope everyone registers and books an appointment,” Javadekar said.
Dr V K Paul, who chairs India’s Covid-19 task force, told The Indian Express that the next phase of vaccination will be the “most intense” and with that, the entire high-risk population will be vaccinated.
“Epidemiologically, it covers much of the population at higher risk of adverse outcome in Covid-19. The decision also shows the confidence of the government in the delivery system to deliver the vaccine on such a scale. It shows that our systems are functioning well, the cold chains are seamless, SoPs are in place, public-private partnership is strong, and that the Co-WIN IT platform is robust. With today’s decision, we will now move into the most intense phase of the vaccination programmme, for which we have enough vaccine supplies.”
Sources said the Centre, while highlighting that there was “no shortage of the vaccine”, has directed states to review the availability of vaccine at all cold-chain points at the state level.
“That’s because in a few states, some districts are performing well and some are not,” said a source. “For instance, in Maharashtra, you may run out of vaccines in Pune, while there could be enough stock in Amravati, Dhule, and Yavatmal. If no one is reviewing this, you cannot move the vaccine within the state. That must be done.”
Tuesday’s decision on expanding the vaccination programme comes even as India’s cumulative vaccine doses administered crossed 5 crore. On Tuesday, 15,80,568 doses were given until 7 pm.
The decision also comes in the backdrop of six states — Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, and Tamil Nadu — reporting a surge in daily new cases. According to the Health Ministry, the six states together contributed 80.90 per cent of the new cases (40,715) reported in the last 24 hours.
On Tuesday, the Ministry said the number of cases in India with the UK, South Africa, and Brazil variants of the virus stood at 795.
Paul said opening up vaccination for more people will be a key public health strategy to break the chain of transmission, including of the UK variant.
“To the best of our knowledge and confidence, we can say both these vaccines are working against the UK variant. We must embrace the vaccine and protect the vulnerable. This helps in breaking the chain of transmission. At the same time, other measures — containment and surveillance — must be followed intensely,” Paul said.
In the first phase of the vaccination exercise, healthcare workers and frontline workers were administered the vaccine. Starting March 1, vaccination was opened to in the general population, with the beneficiaries being those above 60 and those above 45 with co-morbidities.