The Central government is all set to accelerate the first phase of COVID-19 vaccination drive by roping in additional vaccination sites and allowing walk-in vaccinations for those from the same group who have been registered in the CoWIN system.
Speaking to The Hindu on Monday, V.K. Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, and head of The National Expert Group on Vaccination (NEGVAC), said the next few weeks would see the government working at speeding up the coverage for the priority group.
The government rolled out the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive on January 16 and has so far vaccinated nearly two million healthcare workers. While the government aims to inoculate three crore health care and frontline workers for free in its first round, there have been concerns that this is around half of the ideal target and that the drive needs to be accelerated to cover the targeted number by July.
“India has enough vaccine stock to cover its target population for the first phase. We will be escalating the speed of coverage by bringing in additional vaccination sites and also allowing walk-in vaccination. And while zero wastage of vaccination is often not possible, the government is also working on ensuring optimal use of all resources and maximising safe coverage of its population in the fastest possible time,” said Dr. Paul.
On the procurement and distribution of vaccines in India, K. Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, said the government was in regular contact with companies — the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech — on stockpiles, procurement and distribution.
“Procurement and distribution have to be integrated and this is done by the Co-WIN IT structure. This structure is robust and is constantly being monitored and improved. How much to procure depends on stocks, distribution pipelines and use. All three are increasing at speed,” he said.
Prof. Vijay Raghavan added that the snapshots of early days would not necessarily be representative of the rapid rate of rise.
“Vaccines — during the pandemic in particular — are made for use, and this is happening to the fullest. India is amongst the largest vaccine users and manufacturers in the world. Our responsibilities nationally and internationally are immense and are being monitored by NEGVAC. The Health Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs are also in step to make sure that India meets our international responsibilities keeping in mind that all of us need to be safe for each of us to be safe,” he said.
Stating that India is working hard to ensure minimal wastage of this precious resource and maximising vaccine coverage, Samiran Panda, head of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases Division with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), explained that both the companies are doing this in a staggered manner.
“So far they have managed to keep up with the demand. If a vial of vaccine is opened it has to be used within four hours otherwise it remains in the cold chain setting and have a specified expiry period. We are trying to reduce wastage of vaccine to minimal,” he explained. Also, dismissing claims of vaccine shortage in any part of the country, N.K. Arora, head of the Operations Research Group of ICMR’s National Task Force for COVID-19, said: “There is enough provision for vaccines for priority recipients and they might be covered by July this year.”
348 ‘adverse events’
India has so far vaccinated 1.9 million healthcare workers 10 days into its vaccination drive. On Monday, 3,34,679 were vaccinated in 7,171 sessions. There were no deaths reported on Monday in those who had been recently vaccinated, with the tally so far remaining at 8. However, there were 348 reports on Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI), a sharp jump from the 10 reported on Sunday.
Continuing a trend since vaccinations began so far the drive has managed to inoculate about half the intended beneficiaries.
Karnataka reported the maximum number of vaccinations so far with about 2,30,119 inoculations, followed by 1,77,090 in Odisha and 1,55,453 in Andhra Pradesh.
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