The Indian government’s Covid-19 vaccination method has inappropriately prioritized humans and thus causes a large number of preventable deaths, warns a team of nine experts from research institutes in the UK and India.
The government’s current approach to vaccination – focusing on younger age groups – “causes huge numbers of preventable deaths and is deeply unequal, both between age groups and within them”, doctors and researchers claim in a comment published in British medical journal BMJ on Wednesday.
From May 3 to June 5, 2021
They called on the government to take a more targeted approach and redistribute available doses to older people, especially in more disadvantaged areas.
India’s vaccination program began in January 2021 with health workers and “frontline workers.” In March, it was extended to people aged 60 and over and those aged 45 or over with concomitant disorders and in April to anyone aged 45 or over. From 1 May, vaccine rights were extended to all persons aged 18 or over, even if people under the age of 45 had to pay.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Narendra announced that vaccines would now also be free for people aged 18-45. However, the authors suggest that it is likely to increase the vaccination focus on people in this young age group rather than those aged 45 or over.
“In practice, access to Covid-19 vaccination is mainly determined by socio-economic status with very low coverage in rural areas and among disadvantaged urban populations,” they wrote.
“As a result, Indians of all ages are increasingly relying on private purchases, and the country’s minimal pension system makes this particularly affordable for the elderly,” they added.
There is also no specific provision to facilitate vaccine access for adults with reduced mobility, they said, adding that older people are less familiar with the digital technology required to make a reservation to take jab.
The concern was also expressed by the World Health Organization’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “There’s a disturbing story in some countries that it’s OK if the elderly die. It’s not OK.
“It is important that the elderly are given priority everywhere for vaccination. Those most at risk of serious illness and death from Covid-19, including health workers and the elderly, must come first. And they must come first everywhere,” he added, in a recent statement.
While some Indian states have redistributed available doses to the elderly, the researchers urged the central government to do the same until all the elderly in India receive at least one dose.
Researchers include from the University of East Anglia, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, King’s College London, the University of Aberdeen from England; Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai and Alagappa University in Tamil Nadu.
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