The development holds significance for India in controlling the swelling burden of covid-19 pandemic wherein a second wave of infections is looming large
The cut-off date for the 45+ years category is those persons born before 1st January 1977
India on Tuesday threw open covid-19 vaccines to those above 45 years beginning 1 April, vastly expanding the immunization drive so far limited to priority workers, elderly, and those suffering from comorbidities.
The decision made at a Union cabinet meeting comes amid a resurgence in covid-19 cases. So far, people above 45 could get vaccinated if they were suffering from comorbidities, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
“India has plenty of vaccines, so there is no worry of shortage," Union minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters, adding the decision will help millions of people.
There has been a clamour to include younger people as well, considering the concerns about mutant strains and low uptake of vaccines. According to the 2011 census, about 18.3% of India’s population is above 45.
Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan on Tuesday wrote to states to implement the decision, informing them that everyone above 45 now comes in the priority age group, a decision made on the basis of a recommendation by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC). The cut-off date for the 45-year-plus category is those born before 1 January 1977.
“Accordingly, there will now be no need for a comorbidity certificate for people aged 45 years to 59 years, from 1 April. The CoWIN software is also being suitably modified for doing away with the need for confirmation of comorbidities at the time of online registration and on-site registration or for uploading the comorbidity certificate at the time of vaccination. The registration on Co-Win would begin from 1 April," Bhushan wrote to states.
The government had planned to vaccinate 300 million people in two phases. The first phase of 30 million started with healthcare workers on 16 January and frontline workers on 2 February; the second phase is for those above 60 and those above 45 with specified comorbidities covering 270 million people; the third phase opens it to people above 45. However, only 50 million people have been vaccinated so far because of vaccine hesitancy.
With 81% of the latest 401 samples sent for genome sequencing from Punjab turning up positive for the new UK covid variant, state chief minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday appealed to the people to get themselves vaccinated. He also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to widen the vaccination ambit to cover those younger than 60 since this mutant has been found to be infecting young people more.
“Data from some other countries hints that in the second wave, more number of cases are seen in the younger age group. Including people over 45 years is a positive step towards decreasing severe cases needing hospitalization. This would mean ramping up the number of vaccination sessions held per day and the number of vaccination centres. If we are able to vaccinate 5 million people per day, we should be able to vaccinate around 250 million in 2-3 months’ time," said Lalit Kant, a scientist and former head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research.
“Out of this, some would have been vaccinated already when the campaign for more than 60 years and those above 45 years with comorbidities is being done. Drawing confidence from the number of children who were immunized during polio campaigns, this appears to be doable," he said.
Cumulative covid-19 vaccine doses administered in India inched closer to 50 million on Tuesday, with a record 3.25 million vaccinations in the past 24 hours. Assumed to be ebbing a month ago, the covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve in India. India’s total active caseload is rising after touching its lowest mark in February and stands at 345,377 as of Tuesday.
Three states—Maharashtra, Kerala and Punjab—account for 75% of total active cases in the country, with Maharashtra alone accounting for 63%.
Six states—Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu—are reporting a surge in daily new cases. They together account for 81% of the new cases (40,715) reported in the past 24 hours.
Prashant Nanda contributed to this story.
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