Centre sets 20 Feb deadline to give first dose to healthcare workers; India sees 11,713 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hrs
The health secretary also reiterated the need for adequate attention to issuance of provisional digital vaccination certificates after the first dose and final certificate after completing the second dose
India's COVID-19 infection tally climbed to 1,08,14,304 with 11,713 new cases being reported in a day, while 1,05,10,796 people have recuperated so far pushing the national recovery rate to 97.19 percent on Saturday, according to Union Health Ministry data.
Meanwhile, the country is also gradually improving its vaccine coverage.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said that all states and Union Territories will complete the administration of first doses to all health care workers by 20 February and to all frontline workers by 6 March. The total number of beneficiaries has reached 56,36,868, including 52,66,175 healthcare workers and 3,70693 frontline workers, as of 6 pm on Saturday.
Active cases under 1.5 lakh in India
There are 1,48,590 active cases of coronavirus infection in the country which accounts for 1.37 percent of the total caseload, the data stated.
The toll from the novel coronavirus , however, climbed to 1,54,918 with 95 deaths reported in a span of 24 hours in the country, the data updated at 8 am showed. The COVID-19 case fatality rate stood at 1.43 percent.
The 95 fatalities reported in the last 24 hours include 40 from Maharashtra and 19 from Kerala.
The total 1,54,918 deaths reported so far in the country include 51,255 from Maharashtra, followed by 12,379 from Tamil Nadu, 12,230 from Karnataka, 10,873 from Delhi, 10,201 from West Bengal, 8,682 from Uttar Pradesh, 7,158 from Andhra Pradesh, 5,635 from Punjab, and 4,393 from Gujarat.
The health ministry stressed that more than 70 percent of the deaths occurred due to comorbidities.
"Our figures are being reconciled with the Indian Council of Medical Research," the ministry said on its website, adding that state-wise distribution of figures is subject to further verification and reconciliation.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), a cumulative total of 20,06,72,589 samples have been tested up to 5 February with 7,40,794 samples being tested on Friday.
India's COVID-19 tally had crossed 20 lakh on 7 August, 30 lakh on 23 August, and 40 lakh on 5 September. It went past 50 lakh on 16 September, 60 lakh on 28 September, 70 lakh on 11 October and crossed 80 lakh on 29 October and 90 lakh on 20 November, and one crore on 19 December.
India managed to inoculate 4,57,404 in the past 24 hours, health ministry data suggested, taking the total number of beneficiaries to over 56 lakh.
India had started the vaccination programme with its healthcare workers on 14 January, while inoculation for frontline workers had begun on 2 February. The country has managed to vaccinate 54.7 percent of all healthcare workers registered in the national database while 4.5 percent of frontline workers have also received their first doses since 2 February.
The health ministry has also set a deadline for completing phase 1 of the nationwide inoculation for all states and UTs after which phase 2, including citizens above 65 years of age and those under it but with comorbidities, will begin.
"Every State/UT must schedule all healthcare workers for vaccination at least once before 20 February, 2021, and immediately thereafter organise mop-up rounds for them. Similarly, all frontline workers must be scheduled for vaccination at least once before 6 March 2021 and immediately thereafter organise mop-up rounds for them," a press release from the Health Ministry said.
The second dose of the vaccine is also scheduled to start from 13 February for people who were vaccinated on 16 January.
The ministry also released state-wise data on inoculation stating that 13 states/UTs have recorded more than 60 percent coverage of the registered healthcare workers while 12 states have covered less than 40 percent of their total health care workers.
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In a statement, the health ministry said there remains substantial scope for improvement in the number of average vaccinations per inoculation session.
"The state health secretaries were asked to analyse the daily variation in the number of average vaccinations and take necessary steps to increase them. States/UTs were advised to ensure 100 percent saturation of people who have already been registered on CoWin digital platform. They were also asked to organise simultaneous vaccination sessions/day in the health facility wherever possible. Each state/UT was advised to devise a state-specific strategy to achieve this target," it said.
The states/UTs were also advised to ensure regular review meetings of the state, district, and block task force to assess emerging challenges, understand ground issues and promptly address them at appropriate levels, it said.
The health secretary also reiterated the need for adequate attention to the issuance of provisional digital vaccination certificates after the first dose and final certificate after completing the second dose; the importance of authentication of beneficiaries; and timely data reconciliation on CoWin application. He added that CoWin 2.0 version will be released soon, adding that feedback from all states and UTs had been collected regarding the same.
Unwilling to wait, poorer countries seek their own vaccines
With coronavirus cases still climbing, Honduras got tired of waiting to get vaccines through a United Nations programme, so the small Central American country struck out on its own, securing the shots through a private deal.
Honduras “cannot wait on bureaucratic processes or misguided decisions" to give citizens “the peace of mind” offered by the COVID-19 vaccine, said Juan Carlos Sikaffy, president of the Honduran Private Business Council, which helped complete the purchase by providing a bank guarantee.
Other nations are getting impatient too. Unlike past disease outbreaks, where less wealthy countries have generally waited for vaccines to be delivered by the UN and other organisations, many are now taking matters into their own hands.
Experts are increasingly concerned that these go-it-alone efforts could undermine the UN-backed programme, known as COVAX, to get COVID-19 shots to the neediest people worldwide.
Countries including Serbia, Bangladesh, and Mexico recently began vaccinating citizens through donations or commercial deals — an approach that could leave even fewer vaccines for the COVAX programme since rich countries have already snapped up the majority of this year's supply.
Led by the World Health Organisation, a coalition for epidemic preparedness known as CEPI and a vaccine alliance called GAVI, COVAX was created to distribute COVID-19 vaccines fairly. Countries can join either to buy vaccines or to get donated shots.
Mustaqeem De Gama, a diplomat at the South African mission in Geneva, cited “a level of desperation” fueled by spreading virus variants and “the uncertainty of when any COVAX vaccines might arrive". He doubted that countries that signed up for COVAX "will even get 10 percent of what they require".
Even if the effort succeeds, COVAX’s stated goal is to vaccinate less than 30 percent of people in poor countries, meaning that governments must seek other sources to obtain enough shots to achieve herd immunity.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said his country was forced to cut its own deals after watching rich countries scramble for the scarce shots. He criticised nations that, he said, bought more doses than they needed.
“It’s as if they intend to vaccinate all their cats and dogs,” he said.
Although Serbia paid 4 million euros to COVAX last year, it has not yet received any shots and last month began its immunisation campaign with vaccines from Pfizer, China's Sinopharm, and Russia.
Recent manufacturing delays in Europe raise concerns about whether drugmakers will be able to fulfill the multiplying orders.
“There are so many deals being signed that I think it’s hard to see how the numbers could possibly add up for all the doses ordered to actually be produced in the foreseeable future,” said Amanda Glassman, a public health expert and executive vice-president of the Centre for Global Development.
Last week, the African Union completed a deal for 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, to be produced by the Serum Institute of India. That’s on top of a previously negotiated African Union deal for 270 million doses from several pharmaceutical companies and in addition to the 600 million doses Africa expects to receive from COVAX.
Some experts warn that these new deals could move COVAX further to the back of the line, especially if some countries are willing to pay a premium for speed.
To ensure South Africans got doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine quickly, government officials reluctantly agreed to pay a higher price per shot than Europe or North America. The first shipments arrived this week.
COVAX hopes to start sending its first vaccine batches to Africa later this month, but those plans are subject to change depending on manufacturers' production capacities and countries' immunisation plans.
Although India is contracted to provide COVAX with several hundred million doses of vaccine, the shots have not yet been authorised by the WHO, meaning India cannot release them for the UN programme. In the meantime, India has already gifted neighbours, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, with more than 50 lakh doses.
Dr Haritha Aluthge of Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Officers’ Association, called for the WHO to intervene amid the intense competition for vaccines and the failure of COVAX to deliver.
“Not a single dose (from COVAX) has been received,” Aluthge said.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned recently that the world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” if COVID-19 vaccines are not distributed fairly, but the agency has no authority to force rich countries to share. Its entreaties for countries to act in solidarity have mostly been ignored.
With inputs from agencies
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Till 8 am on Friday, the cumulative number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered to healthcare workers and frontline workers in the country was 1,01,88,007
The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 1,06,89,715, which translates to a national recovery rate of 97.25 percent
Ghana's food and drug authority has already authorised the use of the Indian-made vaccines as well as Russia's Sputnik V.