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Saturday, June 19, 2021

As states add frontline workers, Centre says shots for them out of own quota

In a letter to all chief secretaries on Saturday, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan also asked states to adhere to the list of frontline workers firmed up by the Centre earlier.

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi |
Updated: May 16, 2021 7:44:48 am
Senior citizens wait inside a vaccination centre in Pune. (Express Photo By Pavan Khengre)

In what could open yet another front in the ongoing row over vaccine allocation between the Centre and mainly Opposition-ruled states, the government on Saturday told states that if they add new categories of people as ‘frontline worker’ then vaccines for them will have to be arranged by the state governments themselves through direct procurement.

In a letter to all chief secretaries on Saturday, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan also asked states to adhere to the list of frontline workers firmed up by the Centre earlier.

Currently the Centre provides vaccines free of cost to states for shots to frontline and healthcare workers — as per categories already defined by the Health Ministry — apart from those aged 45 years and above.

Recently, Odisha designated officials from the Railways, forest guards, veterinary doctors, as well as employees of oxygen plants, filling stations, call centres and banking-related operations as frontline workers. Several states have designated journalists too as frontline workers.

“It has been learnt that some states/UTs are approving additional categories of persons as frontline workers belonging to different departments (like government departments of Banking, Railways, Transport, etc)… It is advised that states should adhere to these categories as defined by MoHFW (the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare), based on the recommendations of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration,” the Health Secretary wrote, adding, “However, states may like to make provisions for other categories of frontline workers beyond the categories communicated by the MoHFW as Frontline Workers from the vaccines directly procured by State Governments.”

Bhushan said a new provision will be made in the Co-WIN platform for “…on-site registration and vaccination of such facilitated cohorts of beneficiaries that the states may identify to be benefitted exclusively out of the vaccine doses directly procured by the States”.

Incidentally, railway unions have been demanding that the frontline staff of Railways be vaccinated, with many Covid cases among the ranks. As per official data released recently, the Railways, the largest employer in the country, sees around a thousand cases every day, with 2,000-odd officials reported dead of Covid since last year.

Several divisions and zones are independently coordinating with state governments to get their staff vaccinated. Officially, only the Railway Protection Force and health professionals in the organisation have been vaccinated.

As per the Centre’s guidelines, “Frontline workers are the personnel from state and central police organisation; armed forces, home guards and civil defence volunteers including disaster management volunteers and municipal workers (excluding HCWs), prison staff, revenue officials engaged in containment and surveillance activities etc.”

Under the new vaccine policy, the Centre provides states 50% of the vaccines for free, while the rest they have to procure on their own. States have been reporting shortage of vaccines, with the two companies part of the vaccination programme, Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute, struggling to meet orders. While several states have now issued global tenders, the prospect of the vaccines being available anytime soon is remote, and states have been demanding that the Centre should procure the entire stocks and provide them.

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