Vaccine drive needs to pick up pace by at least sixfold, say health experts
The national capital has immunised over 86,700 persons in the five days since the Covid-19 vaccination drive was opened up to those above the age of 60 years and those above 45 with comorbidities, but the numbers are too few, say health experts, considering that there are 1.2 million people above the age of 60 years living in the city. They say the drive needs to pick up pace right now if all beneficiaries under this third priority group are to be inoculated anytime soon.
With 33,287 doses, Delhi saw the highest number vaccinations being administered on Saturday. Yet, the slow pace of the drive has experts and the government worried. With an average of just 12,612 beneficiaries over the age of 60 years receiving the shot each day, health experts say it would take more than five months to administer the first dose of the vaccine to the estimated 2.1 million people in this category living in the city.
The government has no concrete estimate as to how many people above the age of 45, who have one or more of the 20 specific comorbidities, are living in the city.
Two doses have to be administered four to six weeks apart for both vaccines – Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Serum Institute of India’s Covishield – that are currently in use in the country. Next vaccine in line for approval is Russia’s Sputnik V, being brought to India by Dr Reddy’s Lab, which is also a two-dose vaccine.
“We need to speed up the vaccination drive by at least sixfold. For that, there is a need to increase the number of vaccination centres, the timing of centres – which the Central government has already done -- remove the cap on the number of shots each centre can give daily, set up bigger centres at facilities like the 10,000-bed Covid Care Centre that had been set up in Delhi and carry out mass vaccination campaigns, and gradually relax the age criteria for vaccination,” said Dr SK Sarin, director, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences.
He headed Delhi government’s first committee set up to control and manage Covid-19.
In a meeting of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority on Friday, lieutenant-governor Anil Baijal gave directions for speeding up the vaccination drive by scaling up capacity, according to two officials privy to the details.
The government is now looking at several measures to increase immunisation among the aged and the comorbid. It plans to increase the number of vaccination centres in private hospitals and government dispensaries, allow flexible timings at private centres, allow walk-ins and the use of ASHA (accredited social health activists) and anganwadi workers’ network to mobilise people to come to the nearest vaccination centre, and to hold camps to register those who are unable to use the Co-WIN portal for registrations on their own.
Delhi increased the number of vaccination sites from 308 to 402 this Thursday, including the addition of several government dispensaries. So far, the vaccination centres were housed only in hospitals.
“The vaccination drive in dispensaries can only be conducted four days a week, to ensure that other routine immunisation (for polio, measles etc.) is not disturbed. So, we are looking at more dispensaries where we can start Covid-19 vaccine centres. Private hospitals have also been allowed to have flexible timings for their centres; they can open whenever they get more people,” said a senior district official, on condition of anonymity.
A second district official, also on condition of anonymity, said, “We added around 100 centres this week and we are slowly increasing the numbers. Although, there aren’t any centres running round-the-clock yet, it is likely to happen in the coming days.”
The Delhi government’s Lok Nayak hospital had started a 24X7 centre last week; however, it is only meant for front-line workers who are on duty during morning hours.
“We are also getting in touch with the residents’ welfare associations and sending our teams to register those who cannot do it themselves,” the second district official said.
All the vaccination sites also allow walk-in immunisations after 3pm to boost the numbers.
HEALTH-CARE AND FRONT-LINE WORKERS
The Delhi government has designated 36 vaccination sites at government dispensaries and polyclinics for the immunisation of health-care and front-line workers who haven’t registered on the Co-WIN portal yet. The beneficiaries will have to furnish proof of employment in the prescribed form, as well as a signed and stamped certificate from the head of the hospital/department or a medical council registration in case of private practitioners.
The registration and subsequent immunisation can happen at the hospital where they work, the designated centre for their health-care facility, or the designated centre for their department.
So far, just over 66% of the health-care workers and 70% of front-line workers who registered on the Co-WIN portal have received their shot.