People aged 18 and above will get free precaution doses of the Covid vaccine at government vaccination centres from today under a 75-day special drive initiated by the Union Health Ministry.
The drive, aimed at boosting the administration of Covid precaution doses among the eligible population, is being held as part of the government's Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India's Independence.
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya launched the "Covid Vaccination Amrit Mahotsav" at a Nirman Bhawan inoculation camp on Friday.
The camp saw enthusiastic participation as officials and staff members queued up for the precaution dose.
So far, less than one per cent of the target population of 77.10 crore in the 18-59 age group has been administered the precaution or booster dose. However, 25.84 per cent of the 16.80 crore eligible population aged 60 and above as well as healthcare 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 had said earlier.
At a meeting on Thursday, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan urged states and Union territories to hold special vaccination camps on various Yatra routes, as well office complexes, railway stations, schools and colleges to administer precaution doses of the Covid vaccine to all aged 18 and above.
They were advised to organise special vaccination camps on the routes of Char Dham Yatra (Uttarakhand), Amarnath Yatra (Jammu and Kashmir), Kanwar Yatra (all states and Union territories of north India) as well as major melas and congregations.
Mr Bhushan advised them to operationalise special workplace vaccination camps at big office complexes (public and private), industrial establishments, railway stations, inter-state bus stations, in schools and colleges etc.
In all such special vaccination camps, vaccination to be done mandatorily through CoWIN and vaccination certificate to be provided, the ministry had said in a statement. Ambitious district/ block/CVC-wise session plans need to be made for successful implementation of the initiative and to ensure that all eligible population is covered by precaution dose, the statement said.
The health ministry last week reduced the gap between the second and the precaution dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for all beneficiaries from nine to six months. This followed a recommendation from the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization.
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 UTs 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.
The countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on January 16 last year with healthcare 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 co-morbid conditions.
Vaccination for all people aged more than 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 commenced on January 3 this year. The country began inoculating children aged 12-14 from March 16.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)