Covid-19 vaccines for all above 45 in India
Everyone above the age of 45 will be eligible to seek a coronavirus vaccine from April 1, the Union government announced on Tuesday, heeding to requests from experts as well as several states to allow more people to take shots at a time when the country is grappling with a sharp resurgence in cases.
India recorded 47,239 cases on Tuesday, according to HT’s dashboard of data reported by states, the highest since November 8. The government’s Co-WIN dashboard showed that as of 7pm on Tuesday, a little over 41.5 million people have received their first doses, leaving less than 8 million who have gotten both their doses. The country targets inoculating 300 million people by the end of July.
“Our appeal is that all above 45 should take vaccine as early as possible,” Union information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar said following a Cabinet meeting, adding that the decision was based on scientific evidence and recommendations of experts in India’s Covid-19 Task Force. “There is no scarcity, and supply chains and supply lines are intact,” Javadekar said.
In the 67 days since the campaign was launched, close to 50 million doses have been administered to people, but the recipients have been limited to those who are at higher risk due to their age (60 and above), pre-existing health conditions (as long as they are 45 and older) or their profession (if they work as health workers or as front line service staff).
Javadekar said that from April 1, people above the age of 45 will not need to present medical certificates showing that they suffer from any of the predetermined medical conditions.
“The registration process for this category will begin from April 1,” said Rajesh Bhushan, Union health secretary. The Co-WIN platform is being tweaked to allow this.
According to an analysis of Covid-19 infection and mortality trends in India, 62% of all infections have been among people below the age of 45. However, people above this age account for almost 9 in 10 (87%) deaths, making targeting this age band more crucial for inoculation.
At least three states — Maharashtra, Punjab and Kerala — urged the government in recent days to allow more people to seek doses and expedite deliveries. The latest of these appeals was by Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, who said the urgency deepened after the variant B.1.1.7 (first identified in UK) was detected in 81% of samples taken from the state at random for genomic sequencing.
B.1.1.7, first found in UK’s Kent, has been established to spread more readily and has been connected to new waves in several countries. The variant has not been established to reduce the efficacy of vaccines in a significant manner, unlike the B.1.351 and P.1 variants first found in South Africa and Brazil.
Experts welcomed the decision to allow more people to be covered. “There is no other way but to vaccinate as many as possible, and quickly, to cut the cycle of Covid-19 transmission,” said Dr GC Khilnani, former head of pulmonology department, New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
Government data showed that in February, when only health and front-line workers were eligible, around 300,000 doses were being administered on average. This number has increased to at least 1.5 million in March, when the government allowed the first of the general public to come forward.
A second expert said the country should now target higher numbers. “Covering about 10 million a day will ensure that India covers the entire vulnerable population within a month or so, as it will help prevent any sort of second waves in the country,” said Dr Giridhara R Babu, professor and head, epidemiology division, Indian Institute of Public Health.
“It is a wise thing that the government has done as in our country vulnerability does extend to younger population as well, especially in urban areas,” said Dr K Srinath Reddy, founder, Public Health Foundation of India.
Last week, the government placed orders for 120 million more doses of Covishield and Covaxin – the two coronavirus vaccines approved in the country at present.
During the media briefing, Javadekar added that the Cabinet endorsed Union health ministry’s decision to increase the interval for administering the second dose of Covishield to a maximum of eight weeks, compared to six before, in order to gain better efficacy.
Some states have also given doses to a few outside the priority groups to avoid vaccine wastage. About 6.5% of India’s vaccine doses go to waste, the health ministry said last week, making it vital for health workers to coordinate the flow.
India is also expected to soon approve Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use.