While the Centre's promise of a 'safe and effective' COVID-19 vaccine will soon become a reality, the country is preparing to deploy its vast election machinery to deliver 60 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the targeted 30 crore people in the next six to seven months.
The vaccination drive will start once the country approves the emergency use of any of the vaccine candidates.
Currently, six COVID-19 vaccines - the one developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR; second one developed by Zydus Cadila; third one by Gennova Biopharmaceuticals; fourth by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, the trial of which is conducted by Serum Institute of India; the fifth one being Sputnik V vaccine which is being manufactured by Dr Reddy's Lab, Hyderabad, in collaboration with Russia's Gamaleya National Centre and the sixth one manufactured by Biological E Ltd, Hyderabad, in collaboration with MIT, USA -- are undergoing clinical trials in India.
The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) is examining the applications of Pfizer, Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute to grant emergency use authorisation (EUA) to their COVID-19 vaccines. The Centre, earlier this week, said that the DGCI had sought more data from these companies but it will not impact the vaccine rollout timeline.
Meanwhile, the government has assessed the current requirements for vaccines and is working towards augmenting capacities as the country plans to vaccinate 30 crore people in the first phase of its mass vaccination drive. The Centre has also readied the blueprint for its mega immunisation drive. Here's everything you need to know about India's vaccination programme.
Who will get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available?
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has answered most of the public queries in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs). It also reiterated that the COVID-19 vaccination drive is voluntary and advised people to receive the complete dose of the vaccine to protect themselves from the virus and limit the spread of the disease.
The MoHFW's FAQ document reads "Vaccination for Covid-19 is voluntary. However, it is advisable to receive the complete schedule of Covid-19 vaccine for protecting oneself against this disease and also to limit the spread of this disease to close contacts including family members, friends, relatives and co-workers."
The COVID-19 vaccine in India will be first offered to healthcare workers, frontline workers and persons above 50 years of age. Depending on the disease epidemiology and vaccine's availability, the remaining population will be vaccinated later on.
The National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) recommended that prioritised population groups will be specifically vaccinated.
These groups include -- approximately 1 crore healthcare workers, healthcare providers and workers in the healthcare setting; about 2 crore frontline workers which includes personnel from state and central police, armed forces, home guards, civil defence and disaster management volunteers, municipal workers; and around 27 crore prioritised age group population above 50 years of age and persons below 50 years with associated co-morbidities.
How to register for COVID-19 vaccine:
A digitalised platform - COVID Vaccine Intelligence Network (Co-WIN) system - will be used to track enlisted beneficiaries for vaccination on a real-time basis. Only pre-registered beneficiaries will be vaccinated at the vaccination site in line with the prioritisation and there will be no provision for on-the-spot registrations.
"The latest electoral roll for Lok Sabha and legislative assembly election will be used to identify the population aged 50 years or more," the central government said recently.
Among the 12 photo-identity documents, which include - Voter ID, Aadhar card, driving license, passport, pension document and more - will be required for self-registration on the Co-WIN website.
COVID-19 vaccination guidelines:
The Centre has asked the state governments to allocate the vaccine from one manufacturer to a district in order to avoid mixing of different vaccines in the field. The guidelines also mentioned that all measures should be taken to avoid exposing the vaccine carrier, vaccine vials or ice packs to direct sunlight.
The document said: "Vaccines and diluents should be kept inside the vaccine carrier with the lid closed until a beneficiary comes to the centre for vaccination."
"There may not be vaccine vial monitors (VVM) and Date of Expiry on the label of COVID-19 vaccine, this should not discourage vaccinators from using the vaccine. At the end of the session, the vaccine carrier with all ice packs and unopened vaccine vials should be sent back to the distributing cold chain point," it added.
The health ministry also pledged for "One needle, One syringe, Only one time" and prepared guidelines for safer disposal of used injections.
"Always 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 added.
(With inputs from agencies)