India won't open Covid-19 vaccination for all. Official explains why
Caught in a highly infectious wave of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), India launched a nationwide vaccination in January this year. As pointed out by experts, vaccination is India's artillery against the viral contagion which has infected more than 12.5 million in the country.
The strategy has been relied upon by chief ministers of all states who have also asked for increasing the ambit of the vaccinating programme. However, the Centre differs and has firmly stated that these drives will not be opened for all.
Explaining it further, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said at a weekly press briefing on Tuesday, "Many people ask why shouldn't we open vaccination for all. There are two aims of such vaccination drives - to prevent deaths and protect the healthcare system."
The aim, Bhushan said, is not to administer the vaccine to those who want it but to those who need it. He later clarified his remark, saying the government was following a dynamic supply-demand mapping model.
“The primary aim of vaccination is to reduce mortality among the most vulnerable class of people. Why did we prioritise some groups over others? Because in this phase of vaccination (till around July), vaccines will be in limited supply. Hence we have to prioritise it to the most vulnerable sections of society and this is an established practice across the world,” Bhushan told news agency ANI.
Bhushan said that this prioritisation strategy of those more vulnerable is also backed by the WHO. "Along with the prioritisation, we are following a dynamic supply-demand mapping model to take decisions of when to open up vaccinations to other age groups," the Union health secretary said.
India, currently in its third phase of Covid-19 vaccination, has started vaccinating people above the age of 45. In the first phase, which started on January 16, India inoculated healthcare workers with two vaccines - Covishield (Oxford-AstraZeneca's vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India) and Covaxin (manufactured by Bharat Biotech Limited). The drive was further opened up to 20 million frontline workers from February 1 onwards.
In the next phase of the Covid-19 vaccination drive, authorities aimed to inoculate people above 60 years and those over 45 with comorbidities against the coronavirus from March 1.
The vaccine drive was meant to first immunise 300 million people who belong to three categories: healthcare workers, frontline workers, and those at greater risk from Covid-19 due to their age or existing medical conditions.
The clarification from officials came a day after Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging relaxation in the age bar and opening of new vaccination centres.
In his letter, Kejriwal suggested a two-pronged approach. "First, there is an urgent need to increase the number of vaccination centers. For this, the pre-conditions placed by the Centre regarding vaccination centers need to be relaxed," he said.
"Second, it should be made available to everyone by removing the age limit to immunization. Except for those who cannot get vaccinated medically, we should start vaccinating everyone. This will remove the hesitation among people and increase the number of people getting vaccinated. The more people get vaccinated, the more we will be able to reduce the spread of the disease," he added.
Thackeray in his letter reasoned that the move will benefit Maharashtra - the worst-affected state - and those vaccinated by reducing the severity among the young and working population falling in that age bracket.
"I request you to lower it to 25, as the states facing the surge are having to place curbs to safeguard the lives of the population. However, if a larger number of our young and working population is vaccinated, the intensity of the cases would be much lower than the treatment that they need today," Thackeray said in his letter. A copy of the letter was shared by the chief minister's official Twitter account.