Modi govt plans to step up vaccination in the wake of ‘second wave’ threat

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New Delhi: The Centre is planning to step up vaccinations to 5 million a day in the next four to six weeks in he wake of fresh spurt in cases across the country, it is reliably learnt. This could include doubling the number of daily vaccination at a particular location to 200.

The move is meant to speed up the process when the next and the largest cohort of recipients — members of the general public who are at greater risk due to their age and existing illnesses — begin to be covered.

“Currently the system was warming up to check functioning of the software. Now that it has been proven that the software is able to handle the load, it is just a matter of time before the numbers are scaled up,” said Dr NK Arora, member, National Task Force, on Covid-19 vaccine related initiatives.

The urgency of ramping up the drive has been compounded by strong signs since last week that the country may be entering its second wave of Covid-19 infections. The number of active cases is now back above 150,000, after being lower for two weeks. The number has risen for five consecutive days till Sunday. It was under 150,000 for two weeks after February 7.

Four states have seen a significant jump in their active cases this month. In Maharashtra, the number grew from under 32,000 on February 11 to 54,000 as on Sunday. Punjab’s active cases rose from 2,300 on February 12 to 3,000 on Sunday. In some major regions, such as Andhra Pradesh and Delhi, the number of active cases has hit a plateau after falling continuously till around the same time.

Maharashtra minister Nitin Raut on Monday said strict restrictions have been set in place in Nagpur district due to the recent surge in cases there. Schools, colleges and coaching classes will remain shut from Tuesday till March 7, as will marriage halls. Social, political and cultural events will not be permitted and major markets will not open on Saturdays and Sundays till March 7.

The districts of Akola, Amravati, Nagpur, Pune, Mumbai and Thane districts have reported the biggest increase in their case load.

In Akola, this number has gone up by 145% between February 15 and Monday. It rose by almost 75% in Amravati, Nagpur by nearly 62% and Mumbai by over 45% in the same period.

In March, the country will face a tougher challenge in delivering doses than it does now. The government wants to begin covering people above the age of 50 and those with a particular set of illnesses that make them more vulnerable to Covid-19. Their number is expected to be around 270 million.

“Initially we had targeted to immunise about 300,000 individuals every day, the reason being we wanted to identify all hiccups so that those could be ironed out. The country has the capacity to immunise 500,000 to 800,000 individuals per day, which means we would be setting up 50,000 to 100,000 immunisation sites. The country has the experience of immunising 170 million children within a week several times in a year for over two decades now under its national pulse polio immunisation programme, so the capacity is there,” said Dr Arora.

As on Monday, the country has given 11.8 million doses since kicking off the drive on January 16. At first, health workers were being covered and since February 2, front line workers such as police and firefighters are being administered vaccines.

The government had set a deadline for February 20 to give all registered health workers at least their first doses but gave an extension of four days for mop up rounds. On Monday, officials said eight states have given first doses to at least 75% of its health care workforce: Bihar (84.97%), Tripura (83.4%), Odisha (82.26%), Chhattisgarh (80.48%), Uttarakhand (77.59%), Jharkhand (77.26%), Uttar Pradesh (76.38%), and Himachal Pradesh (76.12%).

“The initial effort to vaccinate health care workers and frontline workers was a good idea as it helped in knowing how well the digital platform worked. It is good to know in the beginning itself if there are any glitches, and can be addressed before a larger section of beneficiaries is vaccinated,” said Dr MC Misra, former director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.

Dr Arora agreed that once the performance of the digital platform has been successfully evaluated in real time, it is feasible to scale up. “It is a marathon that we are trying to run and will pick up pace gradually. Everything will depend on the digital platform, Co-WIN, as it is a new software and we had to see how it functioned in real-time. Now that the platform has been streamlined, we can scale up in no time,” Dr Arora added.

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