The Union Cabinet has decided to allow all citizens over 45 to get vaccinated from April 1 onwards, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said on March 23.
“It has been decided that from April 1, the (COVID-19) vaccine will open for everybody above 45 years of age. We request that all those eligible should immediately register and get vaccinated,” Javadekar said.
The vaccination drive’s current phase allows only senior citizens aged above 60 and 45-plus with comorbidities to receive the vaccine shots. The revision in eligibility criteria would add 45-plus without comorbidities to the list of eligible beneficiaries from the start of next month.
In the wake of the rising COVID-19 cases, a couple of state governments had appealed to the Centre to widen the immunisation drive’s ambit.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh, and their Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal had appealed to the Union health ministry to relax the eligibility criteria.
Javadekar, while briefing the press following the Union Cabinet meeting, added that scientists have found that the second dose of the Covishield vaccine can be taken up to eight weeks after the first dose, as opposed to the initial recommendation of up to six weeks.
“As per the advice by scientists and world scientist bodies, the second dose can be administered between fourth and eighth week, particularly for Covishield,” he said.
A day earlier, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had written to the Chief Secretaries of states and union territories, asking them to increase the interval period between two Covishield doses to six to eight weeks.
The revision was based on the National Technical Advisory Group’s assessment on Immunization (NTAGI) and subsequently by the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19(NEGVAC) Centre said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had also recommended increasing the dose interval gap for the AstraZeneca vaccine – known as Covishield in India – to 8-12 weeks. A longer interval was found to have increased the efficacy of the vaccine.
According to Javadekar, the vaccination drive is “continuing at a rapid pace” in India. “Till now, 4.85 Crore doses have been administered. More than 4 crore people have received a single dose while about 80 lakh people have received their second doses,” he revealed.
The minister added that a record 32,52,000 doses were administered nationwide on March 22 and that the number of daily vaccinations has been increasing.
“In February, the daily average (for vaccinations) was 3,77,000. This rose to 15,54,000 in March, a rise of more than 4 times. Last week this rose to more than 20 lakh, and now it has moved beyond 32 lakhs daily,” he said.