NEW DELHI: Amid demands from several quarters for the relaxation of the age limit for COVID-19 vaccination in view of a spike in cases, the Centre on Tuesday said the aim is to protect those who are most vulnerable, and not to "administer the vaccine to those who want it but to those who need it".
During a weekly press conference, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said many people are asking why the government isn't opening up vaccination for all those aged above 18.
Bhushan said even Western countries have conducted the vaccination drive in phases.
"The basic aim is to reduce death through vaccination. The other aim is to protect your healthcare system. If healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics and others fall sick, who will work in hospitals? So the aim for any country is to protect those who are the most vulnerable. The aim is never to administer the vaccine to those who want it but to those who need it," he said.
"We need to understand that we are carrying out adult vaccination and sudden ramping up cannot be done. The ramping up has to be done in a scientific manner which says that when you are being inoculated then one has to sit for 30 minutes to observe if any adverse event takes place. So keeping that in mind with scientific rigour, we have administered about 8 crore doses in less than 80 days in our country," he said.
NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul said the narrative has to be seen in a scientific way.
So far, nobody doing vaccine research has shown that if given on this scale, it leads to herd immunity, he said, adding that it is not yet scientifically proven.
"What we know so far is that all vaccines that are being used, including the two being used in India, reduce mortality, severity of the disease, protect lives and keeping that in mind priority groups have been decided," Paul said.
He said priority groups have been decided on the basis of who is vulnerable to mortality.
"Because history will only remember how many deaths have taken place. Globally, vaccine is finite," he underlined.
Bhushan said the daily rate of doses administered in the US stands at 30,53,566, followed by India at 26,53,533, Brazil at 6,23,445, the UK at 4,13,521 and Germany 3,00,380.
"Our situation in this context is pretty good. If we look that which country ramped up at what pace, we will see that India has done the fastest ramping up," he said.
"If we look at the US, then 165 million doses have been administered in 112 days. India administered 79.11 million doses in 79 days, the UK administered 36.9 million doses in 118 days, Brazil 21.07 million doses in 78 days, Germany 14.37 million doses in 99 days, France 12.34 million doses in 99 days and Italy 11.08 million doses in 99 days," he added.
Elaborating further, Bhushan said in the US, frontline essential workers, people aged 75 and above and those aged between 65 and 74 are being given priority in the inoculation drive.
In France, people over 50 years at risk, people over 60 years and teachers who want the vaccine are being given priority, he said.
In Sweden, people aged 65 years and above are being given priority.
In Australia, healthcare workers not vaccinated in Phase 1A Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults over 55 years, adults with a severe disability who have a specified underlying medical condition, critical and high-risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing are being given priority, he added.
The Indian Medical Association wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggesting that vaccination be allowed for all people above the age of 18.
Besides, the doctors' body suggested, making walk-in COVID vaccination available for all, free of cost at the nearest possible place.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Maharashtra counterpart Uddhav Thackeray had also requested Modi to relax the age limit for vaccination on Monday.
Kejriwal also urged the prime minister to relax the norms for opening vaccination centres, reiterating that the Delhi government can vaccinate all city residents within three months if the Centre grants the necessary permissions.
Thackeray requested Modi to allow people above 25 years to receive COVID-19 shots.
This, the Maharashtra chief minister said, will protect the young people from the rapid spread of coronavirus when they step outside their homes to earn a livelihood.
In a letter to the PM, Thackeray also sought 1.5 crore additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine for Maharashtra that would enable the state government to complete within three weeks the vaccination of the beneficiaries aged above 45 in six districts, including Mumbai, reporting a large number of cases.
India administered 43,00,966 COVID-19 vaccine doses on April 5, the highest single-day coverage till now, taking the total number of doses given so far to 8,31,10,926.