COVID-19 vaccination: Experts say it is time to map vulnerable population

Despite the poor response to COVID-19 vaccination from healthcare workers, the prioritised group in the first phase, it is now important to start planning the process of inoculation of the elderly and those with comorbidities, COVID-19 experts have said.

The Centre had announced that after the first round of vaccination for healthcare personnel and the second round for frontline workers (police, municipal, RDPR, and Revenue Department staff), those aged above 50 and those with comorbidities would receive the vaccine. However, in the absence of a registry or directory of this population, it is high time the government started a survey to map out and enrol them, experts said.

M.K. Sudarshan, chairman of the State’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), said that while it was still not clear whether the government would provide free vaccination to this group as well, the process of enrolment should ideally begin now.

“This group — senior citizens (above 50 years) and those with comorbidities — forms a huge chunk of the population. While vaccination for the first group (healthcare workers) is still under way and it will take off for frontline workers on February 8, it is not necessary that one phase should be completed for another to start,” Dr. Sudarshan said.

TAC member Giridhara R. Babu, who heads Lifecourse Epidemiology at the Indian Institute of Public Health, said the speed with which the vaccine or the virus reached people would determine the country’s progress. “Therefore, those who are most vulnerable should be quickly vaccinated. Mapping out this population and enrolling them should be the top priority of the government,” he said.

He said that while the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) already had some data available, it was incomplete and a survey was needed at the earliest. “The country now needs to follow a 3Cs strategy: coverage (wide and fast) of vaccine, containment efforts to limit spread, and continuing genetic sequencing. Correlation of mutated strains to contained outbreaks, in addition to wider vaccine coverage, will ensure success,” he said. “Although it has been estimated that one in 10 adults has diabetes and one in three has hypertension, we need to map the elderly population.”

However, Health Commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pandey said the State would go by the electoral rolls to find the elderly population. “We have already identified houses that have people with comorbidities. We had collected this data in our earlier survey. However, we are waiting for guidelines from the Government of India, and if the guidelines necessitate a fresh survey to map this population we will take it up. We have enough resources to do a survey and collate data at the earliest,” he said.


Survey in BBMP limits

But BBMP Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad, who admitted that the data currently available with the BBMP was not accurate, said a new survey to map out and enrol this population would begin on February 15 and would be completed in 15 days.

“The previous comorbid survey data did not reflect accurate, easily retrievable options. High-quality, human error-free data on individuals vulnerable to COVID-19 is critical now. We have already started the process and the survey will begin on February 15. This was discussed at length at a recent meeting of BBMP’s COVID-19 task force. The survey will be conducted by Accredited Social Health Activists and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives, with assistance from NGOs,” the Commissioner said.

ICMR clarification

Although the fact sheets of both Covishield and Covaxin had earlier said that people on blood thinners or those who have bleeding disorders could not take the vaccine, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) last week clarified that both the vaccines approved for emergency use in India were safe for people on blood thinners.

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Sagar Biswas

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