India will launch its COVID-19 vaccination drive from January 16 in what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called the world’s largest inoculation programme with priority to be given to nearly three crore healthcare and frontline workers.
The decision, the government said on Saturday, was taken at a high-level meeting where Modi reviewed the status of COVID-19 and vaccine preparedness across states and union territories.
“After the detailed review, it was decided that in view of the forthcoming festivals including Lohri, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Magh Bihu etc, the COVID-19 vaccination will start from 16th January 2021,” it said.
After healthcare and frontline workers, priority will be given to those above 50 years of age and the under-50 population groups with co-morbidities, together numbering around 27 crore, a government statement said.
According to the Health Ministry guidelines on COVID-19 vaccination, the latest electoral roll for Lok Sabha and Legislative Assembly elections will be used to identify the population aged 50 years or more.
The prime minister said that India will take a landmark step forward in fighting COVID-19 on January 16.
“Starting that day, India’s nationwide vaccination drive begins. Priority will be given to our brave doctors, healthcare workers, frontline workers including Safai Karamcharis (sanitation workers,” Modi tweeted.
The prime minister is scheduled to interact with chief ministers of all states via video conferencing on Monday where they will discuss the COVID-19 situation and the vaccination roll-out.
India had recently granted emergency use authorisation to two vaccines, Oxford’s Covishield being manufactured by Serum Institute in India and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. Both vaccines, the statement from the Health Ministry said, have established safety and immunogenicity.
At least seven other vaccines are being developed in India, while some others can be imported from abroad, including the one developed by global pharma giant Pfizer which has already applied for import and sale in India of its vaccine for emergency use authorisation.
There are 2,24,190 active cases of coronavirus infection in the country which constitutes 2.16 per cent of the total caseload so far of over 1.04 crore, according to the latest Health Ministry data. More than 1.5 lakh people have died so far.
However, the spread of the virus has lessened in a big way in the country as the daily number of new cases has dropped to less than 20,000 from a peak of almost 98,000 in September last year.
However, the overall caseload for India is the second-highest in the world after the US, which has reported more than 2 crore cases so far — almost double of India’s cumulative tally.
In terms of deaths also, the US has recorded the most at nearly 3.7 lakh, followed by over 2 lakh in Brazil and about 1.5 lakh in India.
However, India tops the global charts for recovery with more than 1 crore having recuperated after contracting the deadly virus.
Many countries have launched mass vaccination programmes to protect their people from the deadly virus, which was first detected in China in December 2019 and has killed nearly 20 lakh people globally and infected almost 9 crore people since then.
The vaccination drive in India is starting almost one year after the first case was reported on January 30, 2020 in Kerala, though a wider outbreak began in March after a few people in Delhi and adjoining areas were tested positive after returning from abroad.
In December 2020, the UK became the first country to start vaccination, followed by several other nations, including the US, Belarus, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Malta, Mexico, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and the UAE.
In some countries, heads of the government have been the first to get the shot, while elsewhere healthcare workers, sanitation staff or elderly people have got vaccinated before anyone else.
But shortly after the vaccination programme began in the UK, the country imposed strict lockdown conditions after a more contagious strain of the virus was found. This also led to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelling his visit to India for being the chief guest for Republic Day parade on January 26.
In the review meeting, Modi was also briefed about the Co-WIN vaccine delivery management system, a unique digital platform that will provide real-time information of vaccine stocks, their storage temperature and individualised tracking of beneficiaries of the COVID-19 vaccine.
This platform will assist the programme managers across all levels through automated session allocation for pre-registered beneficiaries, their verification and for generating a digital certificate upon successful completion of the vaccine schedule.
More than 79 lakh beneficiaries have been already registered on the platform, the statement said.
As the vaccinators and vaccine administrators comprise a crucial pillar of the vaccination exercise, their training process was also detailed out in the meeting, and it was noted that 2,360 participants were trained during a national-level exercise (training of trainers) comprising state immunisation officers, cold chain officers, IEC officials and development partners among others.
More than 61,000 programme managers, two lakh vaccinators and 3.7 lakh other vaccination team members have been trained so far as part of training at states, districts and block levels, it said.
Three phases of dry runs have been conducted across the country, with the third dry run conducted on Friday across 615 districts covering 4895 session sites in 33 states and UTs.
The Health Ministry said the entire vaccination exercise is underpinned by the principles of people’s participation (Jan Bhagidari); utilising the experience of elections (booth strategy) and universal immunization programme (UIP).
No compromise on existing healthcare services, especially national programmes and primary health care, and of scientific and regulatory norms besides other SOPs will be made, and the vaccination programme will be marked by an orderly and smooth implementation driven by technology.
Earlier at an event, Modi had said that the country is ready with two ‘Made in India’ vaccines, and asserted that the world is not only waiting for them but also watching as to how India runs the globally largest vaccination drive.