Covid-19 vaccinations cross 1 million, drive picks up pace in Delhi
More than one million health workers in India have now been vaccinated for the coronavirus, with over 230,000 getting doses on Thursday alone, according to government data that at last shows an increase in daily immunisations after the drive was seen to be losing steam due to vaccine hesitancy and technical glitches.
The numbers reported on Thursday are the highest in a single day — the most before this was a little over 200,000 doses that were given on the day of the launch on January 16 — and come on the back of tweaks in the digital management platform to allow walk-ins, and repeated appeals from top government officials for people to come forward.
The cumulative number of vaccinations, while still a little over 57% of the target, is an improvement over what was seen as on Wednesday when it was 55%. Some regions such as Delhi saw a significant jump in turnout — the city was averaging around 50% but it was over 73% on Thursday.
Officials credited the improvement to changes in the Co-WIN application that now allows vaccinators to administer shots to walk-in health care workers if those scheduled did not turn up. “The app has been modified to allow creation of more session sites, more sessions per site, and change in site location as per the local requirement. Instead of daily plan, officials concerned can now plan and schedule the sessions for the entire weak,” said Manohar Agnani, additional secretary, health ministry.
Data from University of Oxford’s Our World in Data shows that India is now the fastest country to breach the million mark, taking only six days compared to nine by the United States. But almost nine million more health workers are still to be vaccinated and, at two doses per person (second doses need to be given 28 days after the first), India will need to ramp up its pace further to achieve the 300 million target it has set for later this summer.
The pace in recent days has worried authorities as well as experts, and has been leading to wastage of doses since vaccinators at some locations could not find enough recipients to finish quantities from the vials that they had opened.
On Tuesday, the top health officials of the country appealed to recipients to not be reluctant, and said it was particularly upsetting that doctors and nurses were being hesitant despite adequate data and arrangements to tackle side effects.
On Thursday, the government launched a mass awareness campaign, tapping even an old Bollywood classic — a Kishore Kumar song from the 1972 Rajesh Khanna starrer Amar Prem — to drive home its message.
“Kuch toh log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna…” goes the song composed by the late RD Burman, whose lyrics have been modified and appear on a series of posters developed by the Union health ministry asking people to ignore vaccine-related rumors. The lyrics translate as “people will say something; then it is their job to say this...”
The posters also have quotes from health care workers who took the shot against Covid-19.
“You are aware that I have taken Covaxin and I have zero side-effects. Data shows that these two vaccines are safe, safe, safe,” says VK Paul, member (health), Niti Aayog, in one of the posters. Paul took the shot on January 16, the day of the launch of the vaccination drive, at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
“The misinformation must be countered fiercely. States must do all they can to counter rumour-mongering against Covid-19 vaccines. Let us put a stop to these falsehoods,” Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said while launching the posters on Thursday.
“The paradox is that countries across the globe are asking us for access to the vaccines while a section of our own is fomenting misinformation and doubts for narrow political ends,” he added.
He assured people that the vaccines were absolutely safe.
“All eminent doctors of well-known hospitals have taken the vaccine and praised the exercise for its desired end. The elimination of polio and smallpox was made possible by large-scale immunisation,” he said.
To be sure, while the data from the international trials of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine (Covishield is the Indian version of this) suggests that it prevents transmission, this requires more research before it can be established. No such data is available for Covaxin.
Former Union health secretary K Sujatha Rao also said the initial period after a vaccine’s launch was usually tough, and required efforts to convince people to take the preventive shot.
“It was a task for us to ensure people accepted vaccines, during the initial period of launch of the universal immunisation programme. We had to launch massive door- to-door information, education, and communication campaigns along with our development partners at that time to create awareness among people. It was by no means an easy task at the beginning but gradually picked up.”
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