Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to get vaccinated for Covid-19 in the second phase of the immunisation programme, and it may happen in March or April, said two top government officials on Wednesday, underlining that the leader opposed politicians jumping the queue of inoculation determined by the government and experts.
India is currently administering vaccines to 30 million healthcare and frontline workers. The second phase of the programme will involve 270 million people over 50 and those with compromised immunity or underlying medical conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid-19. Modi, 70, is likely to be in this batch, said a second highly placed official in the vaccination drive, adding that the exact dates hadn't been determined.
"PM will take the vaccine when his turn will come after completion of the first phase," said an official in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). "He himself said this in his meeting with chief ministers that politicians shouldn't try to break the queue and only take the vaccine when their turn comes," the official added. He was referring to a January 11 meeting between Modi and chief ministers where the PM shot down suggestions of including politicians in the first phase of vaccination.
A third official, from the Union health ministry, said the PM's turn is likely to come by March or April. When asked if the PM would opt for a particular vaccine, the official refused to respond. "It's too early to say anything," he said.
The country is currently administering the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, made by Serum Institute of India and known locally as Covishield, and the Bharat Biotech-manufactured Covaxin.
Dr Vinod Paul, member (health) of Niti Aayog and who heads the government's Covid-19 task force, said the second phase was crucial. "Phase 2 is our real focus of effort after healthcare and frontline workers. These are people who are above 50 and all political workers would feature in this section," said Dr Paul.
Currently, about 10 million healthcare workers are being administered the vaccine.. Other frontline workers will perhaps start getting the vaccine in about a week's time, according to Dr Paul. "It's not that every doctor or nurse has to be inoculated to begin the next phase. It is being done in waves. Healthcare workers inoculation will go on and the other phases can also start, we have enough supply," he added.
It wasn't clear whether the Prime Minister would have to register on the Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network (CoWIN) app, which is being used to monitor vaccinations. HT reported last week that the Centre may allow self-registration by the elderly and those with comorbidities on platform, which is currently closed to the public, for faster and easier enrolment of beneficiaries. Neither the PMO nor the Union health ministry had details about the logistics for the PM's vaccination.
Dr Paul said the government was trying to fight vaccine hesitancy. "We are trying to make 'role models' of prominent doctors taking vaccines willingly to remove hesitancy about vaccines," said Dr Paul, adding, "You must also remember that six lakhs have been given the vaccine already and so they are our role models.''