Amid demands from several quarters that the age limit for COVID-19 vaccination be relaxed in view of 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 that many people are asking why isn't the government opening up vaccination for all those above 18 years.
Bhushan said that 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," Bhushan said. NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr VK 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," Dr Paul said. He said that priority groups have been decided who are vulnerable to mortality.
"Because history will only remember how many deaths have taken place. Globally, vaccine is finite," Dr Paul underlined. The Indian Medical Association wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggesting that vaccination be allowed for all people above the age of 18 years.
The doctors' body said that "we request following suggestions in the COVID-19 vaccination drive — all citizens above 18 years of age shall be permitted to receive COVID vaccination and walk-in COVID vaccination should be available for all, free of cost at their nearest possible place". Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Maharashtra counterpart Uddhav Thackeray on Monday also requested Modi to relax the age limit for the vaccination.
Kejriwal urged him to relax the norms for opening vaccination centres and lift the age criterion for getting inoculated, reiterating that the Delhi government can vaccinate all the residents of the city within three months if the necessary permissions are granted by the Centre. Thackeray requested the prime minister to allow people above 25 years of age to receive COVID-19 shots, which he said will protect the young people from the rapid spread of coronavirus at a time when they are stepping outside their homes to earn a livelihood.
In a letter to the PM, Thackeray also demanded that Maharashtra be provided 1.5 crore additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which will enable the state government to complete within three weeks the vaccination of the beneficiaries above 45 years of age in six districts, including Mumbai, reporting a large number of cases.