India's coronavirus vaccination drive will begin January 16, the government said Saturday evening, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting with senior officials to review the Covid situation in the country and finalise vaccine roll-out details.
The Prime Minister called the news a "landmark step forward in fighting COVID-19".
Priority will be given to around one crore healthcare workers and two crore frontline staff, like doctors, community health workers and police, who are directly involved in fighting the pandemic. The vaccine will be free of cost for this group, Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said last week.
The next group will be people over 50, followed by those under 50 but with co-morbidities. Around 30 crore people will be vaccinated in the first phase.
Minutes after the announcement, Prime Minister Modi tweeted: "On 16th January, India takes a landmark step forward in fighting COVID-19. Starting that day, India's nationwide vaccination drive begins. Priority will be given to our brave doctors, healthcare workers, frontline workers including safai karamcharis."
On 16th January, India takes a landmark step forward in fighting COVID-19. Starting that day, India's nation-wide vaccination drive begins. Priority will be given to our brave doctors, healthcare workers, frontline workers including Safai Karamcharis. https://t.co/P5Arw64wVt— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 9, 2021
On Tuesday the government said its CoWIN app (short for Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network) and ecosystem would be used to manage the massive vaccination drive.
The CoWIN digital platform will provide real-time information of vaccine stocks and storage temperatures, as well as provide individualised tracking of vaccine beneficiaries. Over 79 lakh beneficiaries have already been registered on the platform, the government has said.
The app has yet to be launched but will use Aadhaar numbers to authenticate vaccine beneficiaries and send text messages - in at least 12 languages - with details of vaccination date and time.
Initially it will auto-populate data for citizens over 50 from electoral rolls. Individuals can approach the district or block officer to resolve issues, Dr Suneela Garg, a Delhi COVID-19 task force member, said.
Those below 50 can upload medical certificates to establish co-morbidities and secure an appointment.
Once the app is launched there will be three registration options - self, individual (an official will help in uploading data) and bulk upload.
The exact logistics are yet to be announced but the government may organise camps to help people get registered on the app and receive a Covid vaccine.
The government has already held three nationwide dry runs to proof the vaccine delivery system; the third was on Friday, with 4,895 sites across 615 districts in 33 states and union territories covered.
On Sunday the government approved two vaccines for emergency use - Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and Covishield, which was developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and is being manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India.
Both are two-dose vaccines - they need two doses each for maximum protection against the virus. Both can also be stored at normal fridge temperatures (two to eight degrees Celsius) making it easier to transport and store the crores of vials needed to vaccinate the country's vast population.
India has around 2.24 lakh active Covid cases, government data showed Saturday morning. These include around 90 cases of the mutated strain of the virus, which was first detected in the UK in September last year. The Health Ministry has said existing vaccines should also protect against these new strains.