Editor’s note: This article was originally published on 10 January. It is being republished in the light of the first consignment of Covishield vaccines leaving Serum Institute of India, marking the beginning of a decisive phase in India’s fight against COVID-19.

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India will launch its COVID-19 vaccination drive from 16 January. In what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called the world’s largest inoculation programme, priority will be given to nearly three crore healthcare and frontline workers followed by those above 50 years and the under-50 population groups with co-morbidities numbering around 27 crore.

“After the detailed review, it was decided that in view of the forthcoming festivals including Lohri, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Magh Bihu etc, the COVID-19 vaccination will start from 16 January 2021,” the government press statement read.

The announcement came after Modi chaired a high-level meeting to review the coronavirus situation in the country, where he was briefed about the preparedness status of the Centre in close collaboration with the state and UT governments for the roll-out of the vaccine.

The prime minister was also apprised about the CoWIN Vaccine Delivery Management System, which will be mandatory for the Centre use and the people to register and track the target groups

Besides this, the prime minister is scheduled to hold a meeting with chief ministers of all the states on 11 January to discuss the coronavirus situation and the rollout of the vaccine. The meeting will be held tomorrow (Monday) at 4 pm via video conferencing

India is gearing up to begin vaccinating its population against the novel coronavirus from 16 January. Here is how:

CoWIN vaccine delivery management system

In the review meeting on Saturday, the prime minister was briefed about the CoWIN vaccine delivery management system, a unique digital platform that will provide real-time information of vaccine stocks, their storage temperature and individualised tracking of beneficiaries of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The primary objective of the dry runs was to assess the operational feasibility of using the CoWIN application in a field environment.

This platform will assist the programme managers across all levels through automated session allocation for pre-registered beneficiaries, their verification and for generating a digital certificate upon successful completion of the vaccine schedule.

Pre-registration on the CoWIN platform will be required for vaccination and there will be no provision for on-the-spot registrations at the vaccination sites.

More than 79 lakh beneficiaries have been already registered on the platform, a government statement said.

Govt to use voter info to identify population aged 50 years and above

The National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC), under the chairpersonship of  NITI Aayog and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has already identified a priority group which will be vaccinated first. Here is the list:

  1. Nearly 1 crore healthcare workers will be vaccinated during phase I vaccination drive
  2. Around 2 crore frontline workers will receive the vaccine
  3. Those who are above 50 years and people below 50 years with co-morbidities will also get vaccine in the first phase. Nearly 30 crore people will get COVID-19 jab during the phase I vaccination drive.

The government will also be using the latest electoral rolls for Lok Sabha and Legislative Assembly elections to identify population aged 50 years or more to be vaccinated against COVID-19 on priority, the health ministry mentioned in its operational guidelines for vaccine rollout.

According to the document, COVID-19 vaccine will be offered first to healthcare workers, frontline workers and to persons above 50 years of age, and persons younger than 50 years of age with associated comorbidities based on evolving pandemic situation.

For the vaccination purpose, age of an individual will be calculated based on the cut-off date of 1 January, 2021 and anyone born on or before 1 January, 1971 will fall under the category to be vaccinated on priority, the Economic Times mentioned in a report citing the 113-page operational guideline shared with states.

Centre trains vaccinators and vaccine administrators

As the vaccinators and vaccine administrators comprise a crucial pillar of the vaccination exercise, their training process was also detailed out in Saturday’s meeting, and it was noted that 2,360 participants were trained during a national-level exercise (training of trainers) comprising state immunisation officers, cold chain officers, IEC officials and development partners among others.

More than 61,000 programme managers, two lakh vaccinators and 3.7 lakh other vaccination team members have been trained so far as part of training at states, districts and block levels, officials said.

Three phases of dry runs have been conducted across the country, with the third dry run conducted on Friday across 615 districts covering 4895 session sites in 33 states and UTs.

Three phases of dry runs have been conducted across the country, with the third dry run conducted on Friday across 615 districts covering 4895 session sites in 33 states and UT. AP

20 ministries, 23 departments to take part in vaccine roll-out

As many as 20 ministries, from power to railways, defence and labour to civil aviation and over two dozen state-level departments, are being now involved in Centre’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort.

Twenty-three ministries/departments and numerous developmental partners will coordinate in planning for COVID-19 vaccine introduction, as per guidelines issued by the NEGVAC.

As per The Indian Express, the Union Power Ministry has been instructed to coordinate with states to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply at vaccine storage points and session sites. The Railways, which is to conduct vaccination sessions at its hospitals, dispensaries and other premises, will do “vaccine branding” on railway tickets while the Labour Ministry will conduct vaccination sessions across its Employee’s State Insurance network of hospitals and staff.

According to Economic Times, the Union health ministry has sought the support of the education ministry to build “public confidence” on vaccine safety and address fears over “any adverse event”. In a communication to the Union education ministry, health secretary Rajesh Bhushan has stressed the need to address public expectations, anticipation as well as “any hesitancy” through a concerted public outreach, and sought the support of university networks, online talk platforms and any leverage points of large footfalls to drive and support a vaccine campaign.

At least four departments — urban development, revenue, PwD, public health engineering — have been told to help in vaccination site identification aside from other responsibilities, reports The Times of India.

As part of the universal immunization programme (UIP), India has more than 28,900 cold chain points and over 85,000 equipment. The health ministry has been reiterating the need to augment the network, for which the departments of animal husbandry and food and civil supplies have now been roped in.

Centre asks states to use AD syringes, orders 83 crore syringes

The centre also asked the states to use auto-disable (AD) syringes during the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. “These syringes prevent person-to-person transmission of blood-borne pathogens. Use a new sterile packed AD syringe for each injection for each beneficiary,” the guidelines noted. The instructions also stated to “not use AD syringes that have damaged packaging, or have passed the manufacturer expiry date. Do not pre-fill syringes and do not attempt to recap the needle as this practice can lead to needle-stick injuries.”

The central government has ordered 83 crore syringes for COVID-19 vaccination drive in India. A set of guidelines for safer disposal of used injections has also been prepared, according to reports. Moreover, the Centre has also invited bids for 35 crore more syringes, according to the statement by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Affairs.

Process underpinned by people’s participation, says MHA

The Health Ministry has stated the entire vaccination exercise is underpinned by the principles of people’s participation (Jan Bhagidari); utilising the experience of elections (booth strategy) and UIP.

The government has said that no compromise on existing healthcare services, especially national programmes and primary health care, and of scientific and regulatory norms besides other SOPs will be made, and the vaccination programme will be marked by an orderly and smooth implementation driven by technology.

Meanwhile, on Friday, the third countrywide dry run of the vaccination programme to ensure the “readiness of all preparations and simulate a seamless and glitch-free vaccine administration”, covered 4,895 sites across 615 districts in 33 states and Union Territories.

India had recently granted emergency use authorisation to two vaccines, Oxford’s Covishield being manufactured by Serum Institute in India and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. Both vaccines, the statement from the Health Ministry said, have established safety and immunogenicity.

On Sunday, India registered 18,645 new coronavirus cases, taking the overall count to 1,04,50,284. The new infections are just 0.2 percent higher than Saturday’s cases. India’s toll rose by 201 to 1,50,999. The active cases in the country now stand at 2,23,335, while the number of recoveries has now reached 1,00,75,950.

With inputs from PTI

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