2.2 million sign up for shots as key leg of vaccine drive kicks off
More than 2.2 million people signed up for coronavirus vaccines and at least 2 million were given shots till 9pm on Thursday, the first day of India’s expanded vaccination drive that comes against a backdrop of a raging second wave of the pandemic, with several cities and regions recording an unprecedented surge in infections.
Thursday was the first day anyone above the age of 45 becomes eligible to take part in the vaccination drive, which was restricted to the over-60s and people above 45 but with serious health conditions till last month. The government also asked all states to ensure vaccination centres stay open on all days, including public holidays.
In Delhi, long queues were seen at most hospitals and dispensaries.
“The government has set a target of immunising everyone over the age of 45 years within the next 40 days. To ensure that happens, we will start creating more and more vaccination centres, train more vaccinators, keep centres open for 12-hours, and motivate people to come and get immunised,” said a senior official from Delhi’s health department, asking not to be named.
A similar response from the newly eligible recipients was also recorded in Maharashtra, which has been the worst-hit region over the last month. “Though the exact figures of the addition in the beneficiaries are yet to come, the response has been very good in the state. We have targeted to take daily vaccination up to 4 lakh in next few days,” said Dr Ramaswami N, commissioner, family welfare, and director, National Health Mission in Maharashtra.
In Gurugram, private hospitals began setting up camps in office complexes after the government approved such collaboration, further helping vaccine uptake.
Officials in Bihar said they estimated close to 40% of the people who got shots on Thursday were in the 45-59 age group, and there was a rush at some hospitals in Patna. One of the vaccinators, who asked not to be named, said the Co-WIN portal was slow, as a result of which document upload and verification took time.
The Union health ministry’s Co-WIN dashboard showed 2.2 million people signed up between 9am and 9pm on Thursday, and 2.1 million people got doses throughout the day. The final vaccination numbers for the day are likely to be higher as health workers often feed in data at the end of the day. At its highest, India delivered 3 million doses on March 27.
Among the prominent people who took their first shot on Thursday were Union minister Piyush Goyal, Rajya Sabha MP Jyotiraditya Scindia, and Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy.
“It is heartening to see the response of people who were waiting to get vaccinated. This is the power of scaling up due to the simplicity in approach by removing the prerequisite of medical certification for comorbidities. As we move ahead, the complexities will have to broken further. Efficient Micro planning and Mobilization can ensure faster vaccine coverage,” said Dr Giridhara R Babu, head of epidemiology, Indian Institute of Public Health.
Recipients agreed that the move was welcome. “We have been saying from the beginning, everywhere and on social media, that please open up the vaccination programme, let everyone get it and be free from tension,” news agency Reuters quoted Madhav Singh Rathore, 53, a salesman at a clothes store, who sat among a line of people waiting to get the injection at a Delhi hospital.
Union health ministry officials have warned that India’s Covid-19 outbreak has taken a grim turn, with Niti Aayog member VK Paul describing the situation as having “gone from bad to worse” during the government’s weekly briefing on Tuesday.
The same day, the Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to states, urging them to take control of situation. “The current rise in cases ... has the potential of overwhelming healthcare systems unless checked right now,” he wrote, outlining a five steps that included expediting the vaccination process.
All-week vaccinations recommended by the Union health ministry is meant to help speed up the process to some extent, a government release said.
“This step has been taken after detailed deliberations with the States/Union Territories on 31st March, 2021, to optimally utilise all Covid Vaccination Centres across the public and private sectors to ensure rapid increase in the pace and coverage of Covid vaccination. This decision is in line with the graded and proactive approach employed by the Government of India along with the States/UTs for Covid-19 vaccination.”