DESPITE A MARKED increase in the number of Covid-19 precaution doses administered after the government started offering the vaccine free to all adults beginning July 15, just over a fifth of the eligible population in the country has taken it. The 75-day drive for those eligible in the 18-59 years age group ends coming Friday (September 30).
So far, only 22.24 per cent of the adult population in the country has received the third precaution dose, with the coverage among those above 60 years more than double that of those in the 18-59 years bracket.
While only 17.58 per cent of 77 crore persons in the 18-59 years group have received the third dose, it is much higher in percentage terms – 48.5 per cent – in the 60-plus age group which has 13.7 crore persons, according to data from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Till mid-July i.e. before the start of the free vaccination drive for adults, only 8 per cent of those in the 18-59 years group and 27 per cent of those over 60 years, had taken the precaution dose.
Since the free drive commenced, 14.6 crore precaution doses have been administered; of this, 12.7 crore were between 18 years and 59 years, according to the data. So far, India has administered a total of 20.2 crore precaution doses.
Explaining the possible reasons for the low precautionary dose numbers, Dr Suneela Garg, Professor of Community Medicine at Maulana Azad Medical College and a member of the Lancet Commission on Covid-19 in India, said: “You see the number of cases and the severity of the infection has gone down, so vaccination is no longer a priority for people. We always see an increase in vaccination when cases increase. Another reason for the hesitancy is people see that even those who have taken both the doses are getting the infection. To reduce this, we will have to look at newer versions of the vaccines that are better able to protect against infections caused by the current variants in circulation.”
NOT many people are queueing up for the third precaution dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. There are many reasons for this, the primary being low number of cases and less severity. To reduce hesitancy, a sharper awareness campaign will help, as also introduction of new effective vaccines against the existing virus variants.
A senior official involved in Delhi’s vaccination drive said, “With people needing only primary vaccination certificates for entry to various places or travel, they do not feel the need for getting the precaution dose.”
Ever since India started administering the third dose in January this year, it has remained free for those over 60 years – they are at a higher risk of severe disease and death. It was also available free to all healthcare and frontline workers, who are at an increased risk of being exposed to the infection. The government allowed the use of precaution doses in the 18-59 years group at private vaccination centres upon payment in April.
During the free vaccination drive, states were asked to make an “ambitious” push by organising camps in big office complexes, industrial establishments, railway stations, inter-state bus stations, and schools and colleges. The announcement for the free drive came days after the Union MoH&FW reduced the duration between the second and precaution doses to six months from nine months. Through its door-to-door ‘Har Ghar Dastak 2.0’ campaign too, the government urged people to take the precaution dose in June-July.
While the national coverage of precaution dose stood at 21.54 per cent, the performance of states has been varied –from 91.9 per cent coverage in Andaman and Nicobar Islands to 6 per cent in Meghalaya.
With almost the entire population of the country having received the first dose of the vaccine, the coverage of precaution dose in the states has been calculated considering the number of first doses given in adults to be the total eligible adult population. Besides Andaman, the states with the best precaution dose coverage were Ladakh (52.38 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (41.13 per cent), Pudducherry (39.73 per cent), and Sikkim (37.48 per cent).
After Meghalaya, the states with the lowest coverage were Jharkhand (7.14 per cent), Nagaland (7.41 per cent), Punjab (7.75 per cent), and Haryana (8.59 per cent), according to data from the MoH&FW.
In Delhi, the only state to provide free precaution dose to all adults even before the Centre’s 75-day drive, the precaution dose coverage stood at 19.22 per cent — behind bigger states such as Gujarat (36.84 per cent), Odisha (35.93 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (25.57 per cent), Bihar (22.82 per cent), West Bengal (22.78 per cent), and Madhya Pradesh (22.67 per cent).
The coverage of precaution doses in states like Maharashtra and Kerala, which have been dealing with a consistently high number of Covid-19 cases through the pandemic, was among the lowest at 10.63 per cent and 11.03 per cent, respectively.
“This is to be expected; the states are the ones that implement the programme. The vaccines are available aplenty, so that cannot be the reason for low coverage. There is a need for aggressive awareness campaigns,” said Dr Garg. People over 60, those with diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, must get the precaution dose, she said.