New Delhi: People in the 18-59 age group can get free precaution doses of the Covid vaccine at government vaccination centres under a 75-day special drive likely to begin from July 15, the government said on Wednesday while Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that vaccination is an effective means to fight COVID-19.
The drive, aimed at boosting the administration of Covid precaution doses, will be held as part of the government's Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India's Independence, it said.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur told reporters the Union Cabinet has approved the proposal to mark the 75th anniversary of India's Independence.
In a tweet, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said, "As part of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations, free COVID-19 precaution dose will be administered to all the citizens above the age of 18 years at government vaccination centres from July 15 for the next 75 days". This will provide protection to all adults from the virus, the minister asserted.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government's decision to administer free precaution doses of COVID-19 vaccines to all citizens aged above 18 will further India's vaccination coverage and create a healthier country.
In a tweet, Modi said, "Vaccination is an effective means to fight COVID-19. Today's Cabinet decision will further India's vaccination coverage and create a healthier nation."
Responding to a question, Mandaviya said people would have to pay if they visit a private facility to get the precaution dose.
Noting that some people had created doubts over the efficacy of vaccines developed in the country, he said there is a need for a booster dose for everyone and "no one will have to pay for it." He did not share details on how much the exercise will cost the government. Mandaviya thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the decision.
"The decision will further strengthen India's fight against COVID-19 and add an extra layer of safety! I urge all those eligible to get their precaution dose at the earliest," he added.
So far, less than 1 per cent of the target population of 77.10 crore in the 18-59 age group has been administered the precaution dose. However, 25.84 per cent of the 16.80 crore eligible population aged 60 and above as well as health care and frontline workers have received the booster dose, an official source said.
"A majority of the Indian population got their second dose over nine months ago. Studies at ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) and other international research institutions have suggested that antibody levels wane around six months after the primary vaccination with both doses... giving a booster increases the immune response," the official said.
The Union Health Ministry last week reduced the gap between the second and precaution doses of COVID-19 vaccine for all beneficiaries from nine to six months following a recommendation by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI). To accelerate the pace of vaccination and encourage booster shots, the government initiated the second round of the 'Har Ghar Dastak campaign 2.0' across states and union territories on June 1.
The two-month programme is currently underway.
According to government data, 96 per cent of India's population has been administered the first dose of Covid vaccine, while 87 per cent of people have taken both doses. On April 10 this year, India began administering precaution doses of COVID-19 vaccines to all aged above 18 years. Currently, all those aged 60 years and above, and health care and frontline workers are being administered precaution doses free of cost at government vaccination centres.
The countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on January 16 last year with health care workers getting inoculated in the first phase. Vaccination of frontline workers started from February 2 last year. On March 1 last year, COVID-19 vaccination began for people over 60 years of age and those aged 45 and above with specified comorbid conditions.
Vaccination for all people aged above 45 years began on April 1 last year. The government then decided to expand the ambit of the vaccination drive by allowing everyone above 18 years to be inoculated against Covid from May 1 last year.
Inoculation of those in the age group of 15-18 started on January 3 this year. The country began inoculating children aged 12-14 on March 16.