Every Indian aged 45 and above will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as of April 1st, the Government has said.
Government minister Prakash Javadekar briefed reporters on the development following a meeting of the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Javadekar urged vaccine uptake, stating “I urge all above the age of 45 to register and get themselves vaccinated from April 1st. There are enough vaccines available and there should not be any concern on this.”
Javadekar also said that the interval between doses can be extended to up to eight weeks, denoting Covishield – the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine. This decision was reportedly based on the assessment of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) and subsequently by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC), the Centre said.
Vaccine rollout in India commenced in January and, since then, 4.85 crore Indians have been inoculated according to Javadekar with eighty lakh having received their second dose. The news comes as India faces a resurgence of the pandemic, heightening the importance of inoculations. As my colleague Nicholas Parry wrote, “vaccination against the disease is the only bulwark against a resurgence. India has ramped up vaccine rollout, however, given its population exceeds a billion individuals, progress in comparison to population size is slow…it may be years before the population is immunised to the point that COVID-19 is no longer a threat, in the meantime, it is looking ever more likely that India faces a second wave in the coming weeks.”
Nonetheless, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan has iterated to Parliament that not everybody needs to be vaccinated. “Every vaccine does not require universal immunisation and all these priority groups whom we are vaccinating…are all based on expert opinions. Not only Indian experts, but we have also consulted WHO [World Health Organization] guidelines,” he said recently in response to a question from Lok Sabha MP Supriya Sule.
It is “not necessary scientifically to give each and every person in the country the vaccine,” Vardhan said, highlighting that “not each and every person in the world will be vaccinated. The prioritisation process is a dynamic process. The behaviour of the virus is also dynamic. All things are based on scientific facts, scrutiny and vision of the overall scientific and health community.”