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'States can take a call on vaccinating those above 18 years in districts where COVID cases are high'

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Health is a state subject and local administrations must study the spread of the disease to decide on expanding the vaccination drive, says Dr Samiran Panda

As India starts to witness a second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, the government is re-strategising its vaccination drive to cover a wider population, including those between 18 and 45 years of age. The government has expanded the vaccination drive to all above 45 years, which will commence from April 1 and is open to allow states and UTs to vaccinate younger populations (above 18 years) if need be.
Dr Samiran Panda, Head of Epidemiology at Indian Council of Medical Research told CNBC-TV18, "States can take a call, based on local epidemiology of SARS-CoV2 and can expand vaccination to younger population (under 45 years) in certain pockets. But they must not lose sight of the priority groups."
However, a written directive to this effect has not yet been released and it is unclear how people would be able to register on the CoWin app.
Health is a state subject and the local administration can and must study the spread of the disease carefully to take a decision on expanding the vaccination drive, Dr Panda said.
Districts where there is a surge in COVID-19 cases should be prioritised, he said and added, "70 percent of recent COVID surge is happening in about 60-70 districts. These districts are reporting higher infections and deaths and hence targeted vaccinations in districts, even if it means for younger population, is a good move from public health perspective."
Currently, five states -- Maharashtra, Punjab, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat -- account for 83 percent of new cases reported in the last few days. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have also seen a sharp rise in test positivity rate, leading to a rise in cases.
Maharashtra accounts for the largest (single day) contribution to the tally with around 25,000 cases. The doubling rate of cases in India has decreased from 504 days as on March 1 to 202 of March 23.
Reports suggest that in Chennai, people above 18 years of age are being vaccinated as not many members of the priority group are heading for vaccination. This is reportedly done to reduce vaccine wastage after a vial is opened.
Meanwhile, the Punjab Chief Minister's Office has also written to the Central Health Ministry to extend the vaccinations drive to include a wider age group.
Punjab CM Amarinder Singh has urged PM Narendra Modi to widen the vaccination ambit to cover those younger than 60 years of age as nearly 81 percent of 401 samples sent by the government for genome sequencing have tested positive for the UK variant of COVID-19. The Punjab CM said that data shows the virus is affecting younger people.
Experts have pointed out that expanding the vaccination drive is the way ahead to contain the pandemic.
At present the central government's guidelines is to prioritise vaccination for healthcare and frontline workers, and those above 60 years of age. From April 1, vaccination will be open for those above 45 years.
India has so far administered COVID vaccine to over 5 crore citizens, of which over 3.5 lakh people have received their second dose as well. Single-day vaccinations hit a record high with over 32 lakh people being administered the vaccine on March 22.