New Delhi: Lakhs of 60-plus citizens and frontline as well as health workers queued up for their third Covid jab on Monday as India began administering a precautionary dose against the infection, a critical step that comes as cases spike alarmingly in the country.
Braving snow, plummeting winter temperatures, rain in some places or unrelenting sun in others, many people could be seen waiting their turn outside vaccination centres across the vast expanse that is India.
An estimated 1.05 crore healthcare and 1.9 crore frontline workers, and 2.75 crore co-morbid people in the 60-plus category is the estimated targeted population, Health Ministry sources said as the ramped up vaccination drive to increase the Covid protection umbrella kicked off — 17 days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the announcement on December 24.
In the national capital, which added 22,751 cases to its tally of infections and a positivity rate of 23.53 per cent on Sunday, around three lakh people who took their second dose nine months ago are eligible for their third booster dose of the vaccine.
The vulnerable population — also including personnel deployed for election duty will get a precautionary jab of the same vaccine they took 39 weeks ago, the government has said. Slots are booked using existing CoWin accounts.
In Maharashtra, a particular area of concern for its huge numbers, state Health Minister Rajesh Tope said on Twitter just before noon that the state had administered 91,648 doses.
As the immunity booster drive got off the ground — in accordance with what several countries are doing to enhance protection for their populations — scenes of the elderly and others getting another layer of protection were replicated in villages, towns and cities.
In Gujarat, Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel was present at an urban health centre in the capital Gandhinagar as the drive kicked off. The aim is to cover nine lakh eligible people in about 3,500 vaccination centres where more than 17,000 health workers would be engaged for the purpose, a statement from Chief Minister’s Office said.
His Tamil Nadu counterpart M K Stalin was on hand too to launch the drive in a Chennai centre.
The state government said in a statement that the drive has been initiated following instructions from the Central government to roll out the precaution dose for eligible populations.
In Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal Collector Avinash Lavania and Inspector General (Bhopal rural) Irshad Wali were among those who took the precaution dose at a special camp at the collector’s office in the state capita.
The drive to administer the precaution doses to eligible people was also going on at the Pandit Khushilal Sharma Government Ayurveda College in Bhopal, as well as other places across the state, officials said.
“Today, we plan to administer the booster dose to at least two lakh frontline and healthcare workers. The drive will be carried out in all vaccination centres. At present, we have 1.4 crore doses. Hopefully, this will help us give the booster dose also to vulnerable senior citizens in the state,” a health official in West Bengal said as the scheme rolled out.
Giving details, the official said 22 lakh senior citizens, 10.5 lakh health workers, 7.5 lakh frontline personnel and 5 lakh doctors in the state are scheduled to receive the precautionary dose.
“As doctors, nurses, policemen and healthcare and frontline workers got COVID-19 vaccine doses well before the masses, their antibody count has touched rock-bottom. Hence, they must get the booster dose first so that their immunity levels increase,” Dr Anima Halder, principal of state-run Infectious Diseases and Beliaghata General Hospital told PTI.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) has opened over 100 urban primary health clinics to administer the booster dose. Other state-run and private establishments are also giving the jabs, officials said.
In Odisha, where Speaker S N Patro was among those who took the booster shot during the day, the state government has set up 2,276 session sites across districts for the purpose, a senior health department official in Bhubaneswar said.
The vaccination capacity of each session site has been enhanced by 20 per cent in order to hasten the whole process, said Bijay Panigrahi, director of family welfare and state nodal immunisation officer.
He said Odisha has targeted jabbing 17,52,838 booster shot beneficiaries.
About 1,340 session sites in the state are already providing anti-COVID shots to teenagers in the 15-18 years age group.
As the drive gathered pace, the Centre on Monday clarified to states and UTs that no time limit has been set for the operationalisation of Covid vaccination centres, and they can operate till 10 pm daily based on availability of human resources and infrastructure.
In a letter to states and UTs, additional secretary in the Union Health Ministry, Manohar Agnani advised all states and UTs to ensure compliance to COVID Appropriate Behaviour (CAB) at all levels in view of the rising cases
The country had started administering vaccine doses to those in the 15-18 years age group from January 3.
The countrywide COVID-19 vaccination drive rolled out on January 16 last year with healthcare workers getting inoculated in the first phase. The vaccination of frontline workers started from February 2.
The next phase of inoculation began from March 1 for people over 60 and those aged 45 and above with specified co-morbid conditions. The country launched vaccination for all 45-plus people from April 1.
The government then decided to expand its vaccination drive by allowing everyone above 18 to be vaccinated from May 1, 2021, while the inoculation of teenagers in the age group of 15-18 years started from January 3 this year.
On Monday, the country recorded 1,79,723 coronavirus infections with active cases increasing to 7,23,619, the highest in around 204 days, while the death toll has climbed to 4,83,936 with 146 fatalities, according to data from the ministry.