India begins roll-out of second shot today
- Government experts said recipients will not need to take their second doses exactly at the 28-day mark but a window of two weeks will be given – which means the doses will need to be taken 4-6 weeks after the first were administered.
India will begin administering second doses on Saturday to people who got a coronavirus vaccine 28 days ago when the drive was launched, sending automated SMS messages as well as using direct phone calls to make sure eligible recipients turn up for what will be a new logistical challenge for a campaign that is the most complex and voluminous than seen anywhere in the world.
Government experts said recipients will not need to take their second doses exactly at the 28-day mark but a window of two weeks will be given – which means the doses will need to be taken 4-6 weeks after the first were administered.
On January 16, over 202,000 people got the first doses.
“The second dose can be given any time between four to six weeks. That’s the window period that we have,” said Dr VK Paul, member (health) of Niti Aayog, who took his first Covaxin dose on the launch day of January 16 and is likely to take the shot on Monday.
“Though I am eligible to take the shot on February 13, I am most likely to take the second dose on Monday (February 15) as I am away,” he said.
The states have been given the flexibility to reschedule appointments in case a beneficiary is not able to make it on the stipulated date. “An alternate date will be given to those who either are not available on the scheduled date assigned to them or miss the slot under certain circumstances,” said Paul.
Reminders are being sent at regular intervals through a phone text (SMS) to all beneficiaries listed to take the shot.
“There are people on job to ensure not a single beneficiary is missed. The second shot can actually be taken even up to eight weeks after having taken the first shot but the sooner it is the better, which is why up to six weeks is what is being told,” said Dr NK Arora, National Task Force member on Covid-19 vaccines.
Dr Arora said he will take the second shot on Wednesday. “I have been scheduled on February 17 for taking the second dose. Even though February 13 the second dose process should start, I believe, the numbers will pick up after the weekend,” he added.
A senior official, who asked not to be named, said the health ministry was confident of covering everyone who needs to take the second dose. “There is no question of people falling through the cracks as we have real-time information on who all have taken the first dose. It is all QR-coded and any changes automatically get updated on the digital database that the central and state governments can access. Teams are working to mobilise recipients and inform them about their next dosage schedule,” said a senior health ministry official, requesting anonymity.
As on Friday, India has vaccinated 7.8 million people with first doses since January 16. While this is the quickest any country has delivered these many doses, India also faces one of the tallest targets – it has set a rough deadline of July-end to inoculate 300 million (roughly the population of the United States of America) of the people who make up the three priority groups: health workers, frontline staffers and people above the age of 50.
Asked if India might miss the deadline, Arora said the said the campaign will be ramped up significantly in order to catch up. “We are looking at vaccinating 5 million beneficiaries per day in future as we have the capacity. In Polio, the government managed to vaccinate 170 million children in a week. So, it is not that big a target and will be achieved comfortably,” he said.
According to HT’s tally of vaccinations based on figures released by states, there was an average of roughly 400,000 vaccinations every day over the last week.
“It is marathon that we are trying to run and will pick up pace gradually. Everything will depend on the digital platform, Co-WIN, as it is a new software and we had to see how it functioned in real-time. Now that the platform has been streamlined, we can scale up in no time,” Arora added.
Health experts said that next couple of months will determine how soon the vaccination process for the initial population groups is completed. “We still have got some time to see how things pan out. The pace has to be picked up, obviously, and it will depend on factors such as opening up vaccines for general population beyond the essential services; and how many more Indian vaccines get regulatory approvals so that more options open up. By April-May there should be some more vaccines approved and we will know how well the pace is picked,” said Dr K Srinath Reddy, founder, Public Health Foundation of India.
In Delhi, health workers said they have already begun reaching out to people.
“After receiving the first dose of the vaccine, the recipients were given a card with details of when their next dose would be given. An automatic message is also sent by the CoWIN portal. However, we are not taking any chances. We have asked all the centres to call the beneficiaries and inform them that they are due for the next dose,” said a senior official from Northeast district in Delhi, which has been reporting the highest vaccination coverage.
The officials said that the beneficiaries for now do not have a choice of where they will get the second dose.
“Their names are listed against the centre where they received the first dose and will get the second dose there itself. For now, there is no option of changing the centre for the second dose,” said an official from Shahadara district.