Covid vaccination drive to cover those above 50 years

New Delhi: The final contours of the Covid-19 vaccination programme are taking shape. After healthcare and frontline workers such as police, armed forces and municipal workers, the third category to be vaccinated is likely to be people over the age of 50, followed by those who are below 50 but suffer from co-morbidities.

A tentative prioritisation for vaccination was discussed at the meeting held between PM Narendra Modi and the state chief ministers on November 24 and has been communicated to state governments, said people familiar with the development.

A 50-year plus grouping appears to be an expansion of the earlier category that was under discussion. So far, the government officials had been saying this category would comprise ‘senior citizens’ and the ‘elderly’, and it was expected that this group would consist of people over the age of 65. “In India, co-morbidities like hypertension, diabetes and coronary heart diseases occur much earlier than in western populations. So, prioritising the 50 plus population is the right approach,” said Public Health Foundation of India president K Srinath Reddy.

Under the fourth category, those who are below 50 years of age but suffer from co-morbidities such as hypertension, diabetes and respiratory ailments will be vaccinated. After this, general population will be inoculated.

According to health ministry data, 53% of coronavirus deaths have been in the age group of 60 years and above, 35% in the 45-60 age bracket, and 10% in 26-44 age bracket.

While the absolute numbers are still being finalised, the Centre has told the states that Covid-19 vaccine introduction will span over a year with multiple groups being included sequentially, starting from healthcare workers.

“A mandate on vaccine preparation and distribution has been shared with the states,” a senior government official said.

So far, no vaccine in India has been approved for launch by the regulatory authorities and no date to begin the vaccination programme has been set. Serum Institute of India, which is likely to be the first company to launch a vaccine in the country, has said it will soon apply for emergency use authorisation.

AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria, who is also a member of the task force on vaccination, said he was optimistic about an early rollout. “We are very hopeful that by the end of this month or early next month we should get the emergency authorisation from the Indian regulatory authorities to start giving the vaccine to the public… along with that we will have a plan in place to distribute the vaccine to those who are to be given as the first priority,” he said.

The states were earlier asked to prioritise groups to be vaccinated first, based on two objectives — protection of the vulnerable and reduction of mortality. “The prioritisation has happened based on the guidelines of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US. The states are preparing the lists, identifying the vulnerable and people who are exposed to the virus,” the official said.

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