With several elderly and vulnerable people waiting for their shots across Tamil Nadu, senior epidemiologists, virologists and infectious diseases experts are now demanding that the vaccination drive be opened to general public, with priority to elderly and those with comorbid conditions. “This will reduce wastage. Some people may jump the queue, but even that may still be better than wasting precious doses. At least 100 countries across the globe are still waiting for their first dose,” said infectious diseases expert Dr Subramaniam Swaminathan, who has been treating Covid-19 patients.
‘WON’T LET SELECT STATES SHIFT COURSE’
Ready to give shot to elderly, waiting for Centre nod: TN
Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan had recently tweeted that the government is ensuring that no vial or session is wasted and in case of absenteeism, vaccines are being allotted to other beneficiaries.
The Covid vaccines Covishield or Covaxin come in 10 or 20 dose vials and have to be used within four hours after being opened. But with poor turnout, several vials containing unused doses are moved into special boxes labelled as “unusable vials”. Public health officials said vaccinators cannot offer the vaccine to willing elderly or those with comorbid conditions because the national programme does not allow vaccination of people who are not registered on the centralized Cowin portal. “We are told that it cannot be given to anyone other than registered healthcare providers or frontline workers,” said joint director immunization Dr K Vinay Kumar.
Senior virologist Dr T Jacob John says when Covid-19 cases are coming down, the goal should be prevention of severe disease and death along with strategies for safe reopening. “We should give the first dose of the vaccine to the targeted groups as early as possible even if that delays the second dose to health workers,” he said. Studies also show that the efficacy goes from 54% to 82% when the vaccine’s second dose of Covishield is delayed from 28 days to 12 weeks, he added.
State health minister C Vijayabaskar said the state has written to the Centre seeking permission to offer the vaccine to vulnerable groups. “If they permit us we will be able to start vaccinations. This can reduce wastage too,” he said.
The Union health ministry, however, said it will not be able to “permit select states change the course” of the national programme. During their interaction with state officials over videoconference on Tuesday, central government officials have asked the state to wrap up the first dose of vaccinations for healthcare providers in another 10 days, but did not allow the state to expand coverage to elderly group. Director of public health Dr T S Selvavinayagam said the state has told healthcare workers it would cancel their “priority” if they do not get vaccinated.