The Union Health Ministry announced Saturday that the nationwide vaccination of priority groups will begin January 16 to secure them against Covid-19, which has so far infected more than 1 crore people and killed nearly 1.5 lakh.
This announcement came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting to review the status of preparedness for the vaccination. “After the detailed review, it was decided that in view of the forthcoming festivals including Lohri, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Magh Bihu, the Covid-19 vaccination will start from January 16, 2021,” the Ministry said.
In the initial phase, priority will be given to an estimated 3 crore healthcare workers and frontline workers.
This rollout date comes less than a week after the drug regulator granted accelerated approval for two vaccines — Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech and the ICMR, the latter vaccine in a controlled “clinical trial mode” given that its efficacy data is pending.
Healthcare workers and frontline workers will be followed by those above 50 years of age and those under-50 with co-morbidities — these number around 27 crore, the Health Ministry said.
More than 79 lakh potential vaccine recipients have already been registered on the flagship Co-WIN IT platform, which will provide real-time information of vaccine stocks and will track individual recipients.
According to operational guidelines given to the states, the prioritization of groups will depend on the “disease incidence and prevailing pandemic situation.” Timing for the rollout in these three priority groups will be guided by vaccine availability and won’t be “necessarily sequential,” the guidelines said.
Significantly, on geographic prioritization, the Centre has told states they can phase the roll-out in areas where Covid-19 “infection prevalence is high”. So Kerala and Maharashtra, with high case count, will most probably get larger vaccine stocks as compared to states with lower number of cases.
Every eligible person for Covid vaccination needs to be registered on Co-WIN and a mechanism has been created to mark out different priority groups. The Centre has said that the latest electoral rolls for Lok Sabha and Legislative Assembly elections will be used to identify population aged 50 years or more.
At the meeting, the Prime Minister was apprised of the three phases of dry runs across the country. On Friday, the third dry run, the largest, covered 615 districts and 4895 session sites in 33 states and Union Territories.
The Prime Minister has reiterated that the Covid-19 vaccination drive will be executed on three key principles: utilizing experience of elections (booth strategy); the experience from the Universal Immunization Program (UIP), and, people’s participation (Jan Bhagidari).
On the basis of this, a district will be taken as a basic unit – – and the District Magistrate (DM) will plan sessions to cover all priority groups located within the district.
According to the operational guidelines, the DM, helped by the District Immunization Officer, will link sessions sites, vaccinators, supervisors and beneficiaries and decide the date and time for the vaccination session.
“Selection of session site will be at the discretion of the DC/DM, who would ensure that each session is planned for 100 beneficiaries per day,” the Centre has told the states.
Also, a multi-level governance mechanism has been put in place for the back-end: the Block Task Force will check all proposed sites and the District Task Force will check a sample of the sites to ensure that required space, infrastructure, including security.
On logistics, according to the guidelines, the vaccine will be sent to every session site on the day of the vaccination along with one additional vaccine carrier with icepacks. Along with the vaccine, like in an election, each session site will be provided with three hard copies of the registered beneficiary list due for vaccination at that site.