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More than 900,000 chemists across India have threatened to down shutters if their employees are not given covid-19 vaccines on priority similar to healthcare and front line workers such as security personnel.

“The All India Organization of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), a nationwide organization of 9.40 lakh chemists in India, may any time join the lockdown to protect and save the lives of its members, as they were sidelined while considering vaccination priority," the association said in a statement on Thursday. It said that the association did not opt for such a move so far as it wanted to ensure availability of medicines during the pandemic.

According to the AIOCD, its members were not included among frontline workers despite the fact that they come regularly in contact with covid-19 patients at their stores while providing medicines. Since March last year, more than 650 chemists and pharmacists have lost their lives due to covid-19, the association said.

“But now we do not want to put our members at risk and therefore we demand (that the government) vaccinate with priority all 9.4 lakh chemists and pharmacists and support staff, or we will join the regular lockdown followed by other trade members," the association said.

A similar appeal was made by the Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AiMeD) for employees at manufacturers of covid-19-related medical equipment.

AiMeD forum coordinator Rajiv Nath on Wednesday wrote a letter to NITI Aayog member (health) V.K. Paul, who is also the chairman of the Nation Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC), for inclusion of staff at manufacturers of covid-19 related medical supplies in the list of frontline workers and be vaccinated on priority, or, at the very least, allow such expenses to be included in corporate social responsibility activities.

Currently, only security personnel, municipal workers and revenue officials from the government are considered frontline workers. Healthcare and frontline workers as well as those over the age of 45 are considered high priority groups for covid-19 vaccinations as they are highest at risk of contracting the disease.

However, a number of professional groups such as chemists, staff of medical devices and drug manufacturing industry, transportation workers and grocery store staff are not considered frontline workers by the Centre despite their jobs requiring being in close contact with people and being considered as essential services.

Although the situation has improved under the Centre’s revised policy which allows vaccination of all adults of age 18 and above, while giving priority to high-risk groups, and also allows states more liberty to make their own list of priority groups.

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