Health experts have criticised the ongoing vaccination drive where the age of a person is the criteria to receive a vaccine. From April 1, the Ministry of Health and Family welfare opened the vaccination drive for 45-year-old and above across the country.
In a press conference held on April 6, Rajesh Bhushan, Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, clarified that the vaccination process will not be opened for all.
Many health experts welcomed the decision of not vaccinating all the population. However, they said that a large number of the below-45 population suffer from various comorbidity conditions and are more vulnerable to Covid-19 than those who are at or above 45.
In a press briefing, Bhushan informed about the vaccination policy of developed countries and said that countries like the United Kingdom have decided to vaccinate everyone in the age group of 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions. Australia is vaccinating all the adults with a severe disability who have a specified underlying medical condition.
Though he didn’t categorically make any statement whether below-45 people with comorbidity will be covered in the vaccination drive in the future, however, not prioritising them is a cause of concern for health experts as well as various patients' advocacy groups.
“If you don’t vaccinate the targeted population, it will not achieve the desired outcome. The purpose of vaccination is to save people from death. Nobody bothers about infection, it’s the death which needs to be curbed," Noted epidemiologist Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil said.
He added, “The government is vaccinating every Tom, Dick and Harry which is wrong. They should identify people who are vulnerable and vaccinate them only.”
Dr Rahul Bhargava, Director, Department of Clinical Hematology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Fortis Hospital in Gurugram agreed with Dr Muliyil and said, “A 30-year-old cancer patient is at higher risk of fatality than a 50-year-old healthy person due to Covid-19. I believe after covering 60 plus people, the government should have made comorbidity conditions irrespective of any age as the only criteria to receive a vaccine.”
He added, “There is a huge number of people who are below 45 but suffer from cancer, heart ailment, pulmonary disease like tuberculosis, asthma etc. Excluding them from the benefits of vaccines suggests a complete lack of apathy on the part of the government.”
Dr Sanjay Rai, President of, Indian Public Health Association (IPHA) has also echoed a similar concern as according to him, vaccination of everyone above 45 is a waste of a precious resource.
“I am against vaccinating those who have recovered from Covid-19. This is a waste of a vaccine. They have developed antibodies that will last longer than the ones developed with the help of vaccines. We should focus rather on the vulnerable population instead of wasting it here and there,” Dr Rai said.
Groups and associations formed to voice the concern of patients of a particular category of the disease have also demanded that they should be allowed to receive vaccines irrespective of their ages.
One of such groups, the Thalassemia Patients Advocacy Group, said that the government has overlooked the fact that not many Thalassemia sufferers live beyond the age of 45.
“Studies have shown that the overall survival rate among thalassemic is less than 0.74% after the ages of 45. The community’s fear has intensified in the pandemic situation,” Anubha Taneja Mukherjee, Member Secretary of Thalassemia Patients Advocacy Group, said.
She added, “While the Government has been extremely caring and protective of the community and taken the necessary steps to ensure a smooth sail for this group of people during the pandemic, it would be important to ease the age limit for vaccination of this highly vulnerable patient groups who are required to visit the hospital every 15-20 days for blood transfusion.”