New Delhi, March 11:

As India is fast ramping up daily coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccinations, the next in line among the high priority groups are those above 50 years of age.

According to the list of priority population groups drawn by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC), after nearly 30 million health care and frontline workers, the next in line were individuals above 50 years of age, and those with comorbidities.

“The groups were demarcated in the beginning and are now being covered gradually. India is a large country, and to vaccinate 1.3 billion people simultaneously is not feasible. The government had to prioritise. Health care and frontline workers were top priority as this category is directly involved in Covid-19 management and is at maximum risk. Now that it has opened for general population, which is a larger number, the age group has been further sub-divided,” said a senior government official, in the know of the development.

As per the expert recommendation, the above 50 years of age category to be vaccinated on priority was further sub-divided into eligible beneficiaries — those above 60 years of age and in the specified comorbid groups, those between 45 and 59 years of age — who were given priority.

“Now that there has been a sharp vaccination scale up over the past few days, it is being deliberated to also open up the next category in line, which is above 50. NEGVAC recommended including 50 plus population group also, and the process could start soon as the capacity is clearly in place,” said the official.

In an official statement issued on Tuesday, Union health ministry announced that at least 2 million vaccine doses were administered across the country, making it the highest in a single day so far.

“The scale up has been tremendous and we intend to take it to five million per day, and the way vaccination process is going, it will happen soon. Vaccination centres will also be expanded to anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 across the country to make it possible. All this is doable as we have the capacity and have vaccinated about 170 million children in a week against Polio under the national immunisation drive,” said Dr N.K. Arora, member, National Task Force on Covid-19 related matters.

Over the past few weeks, the government has taken several measures to ramp up Covid-19 vaccination process, which includes making changes to the CoWIN platform to allow self-registration, flexible timings and days, walk-ins etc.

In its latest advisory to states during a high-level review on Tuesday, the Centre asked them to involve the private sector hospitals in a big way and provide enough stocks to last at least for 15 days to facilitate booking of slots well in advance for the convenience of eligible beneficiaries.

“…register and activate all private facilities and also provide sufficient stock of vaccines to the private facilities for 15-28 days so that these facilities can offer online open slots to citizens. Visibility of more open slots not only assures the citizens about the services but also helps avoid overcrowding on account of perceived scarcity in absence of clear visibility of vaccination slots,” said the health ministry in a statement.

States were particularly urged to leverage the private sector to the maximum in order to enhance coverage, registering and activating as many private facilities that fulfill the laid down criteria by the central government as possible.

“…providing sufficient stock of vaccines is necessary for these centres to work at their optimum and providing any other facilitation required,” the health ministry statement read.

Experts also said that expanding coverage was the best way to ramp up the Covid-19 vaccination.

“To ramp up vaccination, it’s imperative to open up the facility beyond essential services. The numbers will further go up as more India-manufactured vaccines will gradually get added to the bucket, and more beneficiaries in general population get vaccinated as it will build vaccine confidence. Important figures of the country getting the shot also helps,” said Dr K Srinath Reddy, founder, Public Health Foundation of India.