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Health Ministry refuses to advance Phase-3 Vaccination


New Delhi: The health ministry has turned down requests from a few states to advance the third phase of the Covid-19 vaccination drive on the grounds that the present schedule was arrived at following detailed scientific deliberations and stakeholder consultations, which could not be tweaked on demand.

ET has learnt that the health ministry has told Punjab and Tamil Nadu — the two states that were pushing hard for this flexibility — that vaccination schedule as well as identification of priority groups was done through detailed discussions in the National Expert Group of Vaccine Administration (NEGVAC), which also included state government representatives. The NEGVAC is headed by Niti Aayog member (health) Dr VK Paul and co-chaired by health secretary Rajesh Bhushan.

“The health ministry has told the states that it would not be possible to change the vaccination schedule,” Punjab principal secretary (health and family welfare) Hussan Lal told ET.

Further, the ministry has pointed out that NEGVAC drew up this plan after carefully studying the experience of other countries and then comparing it with the way the virus has behaved in India, especially the nature and extent of its spread.

ET had first reported on February 19 that Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh had sought the Centre’s permission to initiate the phase-3 of vaccination, which would include those aged 50 and above.

‘Steps Taken to Curb Vaccine Wastage’

These states cited low vaccine uptake and unused Covishield and Covaxin stocks with expiry in April-May.

“We are now looking at the number of people waiting at a vaccination centre before opening injection vial. We request a beneficiary to wait for a while and then pass on messages to others assigned to the centre, even if they are scheduled for the next day. This helps in curbing vaccine wastage,” said a Chhattisgarh government spokesperson.

The health ministry, officials explained, would not be able to start the third phase as it would require registration of beneficiaries on Co-WIN app — an exercise which would need more time than the first two phases because it involves reaching out to a target population of 27 million. The government will first look at electoral rolls and then begin registration. The Co-WIN app would also need an upgrade for this purpose.

Going by the Centre’s schedule, states have begun the “mopup round” of healthcare workers from Saturday. This would be the last opportunity for healthcare workers who missed their chance for inoculation in January to come and get their jab. If they miss it this time, medics will be put in the age-appropriate priority group for vaccination.

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