Jab for those who ‘need’ it, not those who ‘want’ it: Centre
As India faces the worst wave of the Covid-19 pandemic yet, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and chief ministers of several states have appealed to the central government to open vaccination for all people above 18, even as Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan resorted to semantics in the health ministry’s briefing on Tuesday, saying “the aim is not to administer the vaccine to those who want it, but to those who need it”.
Experts pointed out that in the case of the coronavirus disease, no one is safe till everyone is safe – and in this case this means everyone over the age of 18 (neither of the vaccines in use in India has yet been approved for those below the age of 18). Other experts pointed that even if vaccines must be administered in a prioritised manner, it would make sense to prioritise urban centres, especially those that are seeing a huge surge in infections.
“In cities, if we immunise about 30-40% (given that 45-55% have been infected), we should be in reasonable shape and begin to see slowing. However, there are lots of caveats such as duration of protection, variant escape, etc. In rural areas, we will need greater coverage to see a difference. But ultimately we will need to get everyone immunised including children,” said Dr Gagandeep Kang, one of India’s top vaccinologist.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, IMA said: “At present, we are vaccinating the population above 45 years. In view of the rapid spread of the second wave of the disease, we suggest that our vaccination strategy needs to be geared up with immediate effect. All citizens above 18 years of age shall be permitted to receive Covid vaccination.”
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot wrote a similar letter to the PM, seeking removal of the age bar on vaccination. “I appeal to the Prime Minister and the Central government to allow the vaccination for all by removing the age bar,” the letter read. “Also, in addition to the two vaccines currently being used in India, other vaccines should be allowed, so that more and more people can be vaccinated in the earliest possible manner,” it added.
India is expected to approve the Sputnik V vaccine shortly.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, and his Maharashtra and Delhi counterparts, Uddhav Thackeray and Arvind Kejirwal, have made similar appeals to the Centre. On Monday, Kejriwal wrote to the Prime Minister, saying “if rules for opening new centres are simplified and everyone is allowed to be vaccinated irrespective of age, then the Delhi government can vaccinate all Delhi residents within three months.”
India has so far administered 84 million vaccine doses till Tuesday night, according to HT’s vaccine tracker. Of this, 10,904,088 people have received both doses and 62,257,181 have received one dose. On Monday, the country vaccinated 4,300,966 people, a new high. According to an HT analysis last week, if India vaccinates 4 million people a day, it would have completely vaccinated 50 million people (both doses) by May 15 and 100 million people by June 16. It takes two weeks after the second dose for the vaccine to be completely effective.
On Tuesday, India added a record 115,320 new cases in a single day, taking its overall tally of cases to 11,789,781; 630 people died from Covid-10 on Tuesday. The current seven-day average of cases is 93,041.
IMA has also suggested that private sector family clinics should be included actively in the vaccination drive along with private hospitals. Making vaccination certificate mandatory for entering public places and to receive products under the public distribution system were among the several suggestions made by the doctors’ body as ways to dispel vaccine hesitancy.
In the health ministry briefing, Bhushan sought to explain the rationale for the government’s phased approach to vaccination.
“It is a common question that is being asked these days that why are not Covid-19 vaccinations being opened for all; why can’t all adults be given it. To those, I want to say that Covid-19 vaccination drive is essentially meant to serve two purposes: to prevent deaths and the other purpose is to protect your health care system. In the middle of a pandemic, the main aim is not to administer the vaccine to those who want it but to those who need it. The most vulnerable in the country have to be protected, and that is what is being done globally also,” said Bhushan.
“The basic aim is to reduce death through vaccination. The other aim is to protect your healthcare system. If healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics and others fall sick, who will work in hospitals? So the aim, for any country, is to protect those who are the most vulnerable,” he said.
Bhushan later told ANI it was “a fallacy that our vaccination process is heavily regulated and controlled by the state”.
Niti Aayog member (health) Dr VK Paul said: “What we know so far is that all vaccines that are being used, including the two being used in ,India reduce mortality, severity of the disease, protect lives and keeping that in mind priority groups have been decided. We have to protect our most vulnerable.” He said the priority groups have been decided based on people vulnerable to mortality.
“Pandemic situation no doubt has deteriorated in the country, as there has been a serious rise in Covid-19 cases. It has risen like a wave, and this time the speed of rise is greater than the previous time,” said Paul.
India’s vaccine drive began on January 16 with health care workers, and on February 2 with frontline workers, and then moved, on March 1, to people over the age of 60 and those over the age of 45 but with conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid-19.
On April 1, the country started vaccinating everyone over the age of 45.