INDIA’S COVID vaccination programme crossed the 5-lakh mark on the fourth day with the Centre urging states to address “vaccine hesitancy” among some in the priority group, and indicating that the drive will soon be extended to the larger population.
“The vaccination drive will be further accelerated… Whatever doses of vaccine are made available, we will ensure that they reach maximum beneficiaries. This will be done soon,” said Dr V K Paul, who heads the high-level national expert group on vaccination administration.
While the Health Ministry cited a provisional report at 6 pm to state that 6,31,417 healthcare workers have been vaccinated so far across 11,660 sessions, Paul said that “vaccine hesitancy has to extinguish before the pandemic extinguishes”.
“In India, the vaccine is being prioritised for health care and frontline workers. However, despite that, if some of them are hesitant to take it, particularly the doctors and nurses, then it is disappointing. We don’t know what turn the pandemic will take; we have to start our non-Covid services… In a few days, India has planned to vaccinate all its health care workers…it is not right to have any confusion…the vaccine hesitancy among the health care workers should end,” he said.
Paul was speaking at the first official briefing by the group after the vaccination drive was launched on January 16. Currently, the vaccine is being administered to a top priority group of 3 crore health care workers and frontline workers.
Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said states have been directed to engage with beneficiaries. “Vaccine hesitancy is something that has been there in all countries. It has nothing to do with only Covid-19. Probably, the degree would be more in Covid-19 because it is a new disease and new vaccine. We have seen this in polio, measles, mumps…The only way of addressing it is by engaging repeatedly with the beneficiary groups, and trying to address their doubts and confusions. That is our advice to all state governments,” he said.
According to the Health Ministry, only nine adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) that required hospitalisation have been recorded so far. “In Delhi, three cases have been discharged whereas one case is under observation at Rajiv Gandhi Hospital, Shahdara. One more AEFI case from Uttarakhand has been discharged. In Karnataka, one person is discharged and another person is stable and under observation at District Hospital, Chitradurga. In Chhattisgarh also, one person is discharged. In Rajasthan, one case of suspected anaphylaxis is fine and under observation at District Hospital, Bangar,” the Ministry said.
Health Secretary Bhushan said that “only in 0.18 per cent, minor adverse events following immunization have been reported in India”. “And 0.002 percent of them required hospitalisation following immunization. This is in fact the lowest, so far as we know, in the world. Let us see how it evolves going forward,” he said.
According to Bhushan, India’s coverage is significantly higher than other countries in the first week of vaccination. “In fact, in the first week in the US, 5.56 lakh persons were vaccinated. That number we already crossed by the end of Day 4. The UK vaccinated more 1.37 lakh in the first week, France vaccinated only 516 in the first week, and Russia vaccinated 52,000 in the first week. These are comparative figures. However, India will further pick up the speed,” he said.
Paul, meanwhile, emphasised that India’s current pandemic curve allows vaccination for large numbers. “It is sheer luck that we started the vaccination drive when our pandemic curve is under control; our health system has space to breathe. In this period, we have to push and vaccinate as many as possible and aim towards vaccine-induced herd immunity,” he said.
Referring to the situation in states, Bhushan said some have achieved coverage of more than 70 per cent. “Telangana is a very good case. It is a big state, which suffered during the height of the pandemic…in the first two days, they managed to cover 81 per cent of whatever they had scheduled to be immunised….Uttar Pradesh, largest in terms of population, has covered 71 per cent. Similarly, Arunachal Pradesh, which is a remote state with connectivity problems, still have managed to vaccinate 75 per cent,” he said.
But there are also states that “need to improve” their coverage, the Health Secretary said. “Tamil Nadu’s vaccination coverage has been 34.9 per cent; Punjab has recorded 27.9 percent. We are in constant dialogue with all these states. The IT team, public health and immunisation teams at the Centre are interacting with state teams to address the issue of vaccine hesitancy. We are hoping, going ahead, all states will show greater progress,” he said.