Ahead of a crucial meeting on vaccine administration that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold Tuesday morning with Chief Ministers, top government sources told The Indian Express that one crore frontline healthcare workers have been identified to receive the first dose of whichever vaccine is available against the novel coronavirus infection early next year.
The sources, who are part of the expert group on vaccine administration, said they have “moved into an advance stage” of building a database for the first priority group — “frontline healthcare workers” — who will receive the first dose during the immunisation drive, if and when a particular vaccine is cleared by the Indian regulator for commercial use.
“We have received a substantial response from the states. Ninety two per cent of all government hospitals across all states have provided data. Around 56 per cent of private-sector hospitals have provided data. We are at an advanced stage,” a top government source said.
“What has emerged is that the entire group (of frontline health care workers) is approximate around 1 crore,” the source said.
The creation of a database on healthcare and frontline workers — a process that is now in the final stages — comes ahead of PM Modi’s detailed engagement with Chief Ministers on vaccine administration on Tuesday morning. Dr V K Paul, member, NITI Aayog, and Rajesh Bhushan, Union Health Secretary, both of whom co-chair the expert group, are expected to make a detailed presentation in the meeting, senior officials confirmed.
The backend preparation for the largest immunisation drive also comes at a time when the Centre expects to receive and utilise 400-500 million doses and cover approximately 20-25 crore people by July 2021.
Laying out the distribution sequence for Covid vaccines that are expected to be available in India, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan had in October said the first priority would be for those facing occupational hazards from the virus and exposure risk, indicating that healthcare professionals at the frontline would be among the early recipients.
Sources said state governments have also provided “granular” details on frontline healthcare workers under different categories, including “allopathic doctors, AYUSH doctors; nurses deployed in hospitals, ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers and ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwifery)”.
“However, within the main group, there is no further priority. Once we start immunising frontline healthcare workers, will do it for the entire 1 crore people, from start to finish,” a source said.
Students of medicine and nursing students and faculty members will also be involved in the training and implementation of the immunisation programme.
Over the last one week, the Prime Minister has been briefed on the preparations, including that the digital platform for vaccine administration and distribution has been prepared and test runs are underway in partnership with state- and district-level stakeholders.
Currently, five vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of development in India and one is in the early stages. While enrollment for Phase 3 of the Oxford vaccine candidate tested by Serum Institute is complete, Bharat Biotech has just begun Phase 3 trials, and Zydus Cadila has completed Phase 2 trials. Russia’s Sputnik-V, being tested in collaboration with Dr Reddy’s, has begun Phase 2-3 trials. Biological E is conducting an early Phase 1-2 trial.
Sources said details on augmentation of cold chains and procurement of syringes and needles were also discussed during the meeting. “From the existing 28,000 cold storage points, we have added 1,000 more points within the government facility itself. We are also procuring additional walk-in coolers, walk-in fridges and deep freezers,” sources said.x