Covid vaccine rollout from January 16
India will begin its campaign to vaccinate against Covid-19 around 30 million people from two priority groups on January 16, the Union health ministry announced on Saturday after a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review the preparedness for the rollout.
The health ministry has not released a timetable for the vaccination campaign yet, but said the vaccines would first be offered to healthcare workers and frontline workers, and then to people above 50 years, followed by those below 50 but with chronic health disorders.
The priority group above 50 years may be subdivided into those above 60 — to be vaccinated first — and those between 50 and 60.
The health ministry said the coming weeks and months would witness the vaccination of around 10 million healthcare workers and 20 million frontline public workers.
“After a detailed review, it was decided that in view of the forthcoming festivals, including Lohri, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Magh Bighu… the Covid-19 vaccination drive will start from January 16,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Medical experts say the campaign will require 60 million doses of the two-dose vaccines.
A member of the vaccination task force in Bengal told The Telegraph that around 600,000 healthcare workers in the state were expected to be vaccinated. The number of frontline workers in the state is estimated to be between 1.2 million and 1.5 million.
The Centre will run the campaign through a digital platform called Co-Win that will register the recipients, document the vaccine and the doses they have received, and record adverse events, if any. The government is itself registering all the healthcare workers and frontline workers on the platform.
The ministry said it had already registered 7.9 million people from these two categories on Co-Win.
In the coming weeks, people from the other two priority groups would need to register themselves.
The Centre’s regulatory authority has approved for restricted emergency use the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, manufactured in India by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India and called Covishield, and the home-grown Covaxin from Hyderbad-based Bharat Biotech.
Although the government has not specified which of the two vaccines would be released and where, there is widespread expectation that Covishield will be the first to be rolled out.
The Serum Institute has indicated that it has stockpiled 50 million doses and can produce around 100 million doses per month by February or March. The company, which is required to export half of what it manufactures, expects to supply the vaccine only within India in the early weeks of the campaign.
“The speed of the vaccination drive will depend on both the supply of the vaccines and the number and distribution of the vaccination sites,” the member of Bengal’s vaccination task force said.
One option for Bengal would be to try and complete the vaccinations for healthcare workers and frontline workers before the elections, the member said.
Assuming Bengal has two million people from these two priority groups, he said, around 20,000 people would need to be vaccinated every day to cover these priority groups over the next 100 days.
Bengal has so far prepared close to 80 vaccination sites. Health ministry officials have indicated that each vaccine site could immunise around 100 people a day. The vaccination process requires the vaccine recipients to remain under observation at the site for 30 minutes after receiving the shot.