One crore health care workers, two crore frontline workers including the police and armed forces, and about 27 crore people above the age of 50 years and those less than 50 years with associate comorbidities — these are the three groups who should be simultaneously vaccinated on priority depending on the availability of a vaccine, a high-level expert committee has recommended to the government. “Every single Indian who needs to be vaccinated will be vaccinated,” Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, who co-chairs the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration of Covid-19 (NEGVAC), said, talking about the recommendations.
NEGVAC Chair V K Paul said a proposal to include teachers in the priority group is under consideration.
Detailing preparations regarding rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine, expected early next year, Bhushan said the Centre will take the final decision on who would be prioritised depending on the recommendations of the committee. “We believe that in the initial phase, maybe in the first month, the vaccine arrival will be limited. However, in subsequent months, it will increase. Therefore, all the different priority groups can be vaccinated together,” the Health Secretary said.
He added, “There are two important things. First, that these are only recommendations of the NEGVAC, and that the government still has to take a decision. Second is that this is not sequential (vaccination of priority groups). Whenever immunisation begins, it can also happen simultaneously depending on the availability of the vaccine.”
About the NEGVAC recommendations, Bhushan said, “First, it has recommended that the priority group should include health care providers and workers, from both government and private. Our estimation is that this number is around one crore… Second, frontline workers should be given priority; this group will include state and central police department, armed forces, home guard, civil defence organisations including disaster management volunteers and municipal workers. This group is estimated to be around two crore.”
The Health Secretary said that the third recommendation of the expert committee is “that there should be age-stratified priority groups” of about 27 crore people. “The prioritised age group includes persons of age 50 years and persons less than 50 years associated with comorbidities.”
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Bhushan said the Centre will start providing additional cold storage equipment to the states beginning December 10. “Currently, in India, there are 85,634 equipment for storage of vaccines at about 28,947 cold chain points. The current cold chain is capable of storing a Covid-19 vaccine required for the first three crore, that is health care and frontline workers. We have already assessed the additional requirement for cold chain storage after consulting states. We are in the process of procuring and supplying them. The first supply of such additional equipment will start from December 10.”
Bhushan said 1.54 lakh vaccinators will be utilised for the drive. “We have around 2.3 lakh- trained vaccinators across the country. However, our priority is also that the routine health service including routine immunisation should not be impacted. Therefore, we will only utilise 1.54 lakh ANMs (auxiliary nurse midwives) for the Covid-19 vaccination drive,” he said.
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“On implementation preparedness, additional procurement for syringes and needles has been estimated and this process is on track. The standard operating procedures on implementation have been shared with states. We are receiving their comments and will soon finalise them. The training material is in digital format and has also been finalised. In the coming days, we will finalise the detailed implementation plan after discussion with states,” Bhushan said.
The Health Secretary emphasised that states and Centre will develop a communication strategy on the vaccination drive. “The most important thing is there should be transparent, effective and sustained communication on the vaccination drive. Good communication with the people is crucial. We have to explain to people about the implementation. We also have to prepare people to accept some adverse effects as happens with all vaccines; we have to tell people what the government will be doing on adverse event reporting,” he said.
“The government will face some challenges. There could be disinformation campaigns. There could be rumours about the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccines. It will be important to disseminate correct information to the population,” Bhushan said.
During the weekly briefing, Bhushan also confirmed that state task forces, that will co-ordinate vaccine administration, have begun meeting. “All the states have constituted the task forces and the meetings have begun; all the district task force and block task force meetings will take place before December 12 and 15 respectively. These bodies will be meeting regularly.”
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