The elderly, politicians and a few other categories, including teachers, in Tamil Nadu would be able to get their COVID-19 vaccine doses much ahead of the mid-March schedule if the state government has its way. The Tamil Nadu government has sought the Centre's nod to prioritise the elderly, people with comorbidities, politicians, teachers and journalists for vaccination, citing huge gatherings in election campaigns for polls due in May and low turnout at vaccination centres.
The state government has said by prioritising these categories, the underutilised vaccine doses could be put to good use.
This comes even as the state suffers from vaccine avoidance among health and frontline workers. Tamil Nadu has seen a poor vaccination patronage of around 50 per cent in the first and second phases of the inoculation drive.
"An elderly lady, for instance, goes out to see a dentist after almost a year and she comes back with COVID-19 as she has been cocooned in her house for a long time," said Tamil Nadu health secretary Dr J Radhakrishnan.
"Every day, around 20,000 people come for vaccinations while we have a capacity for about 80,000," he added.
Health officials also explain that unlike other states people in Tamil Nadu are quite conservative when it comes to vaccines. Besides wait and watch policy, many have questions on trial norm compliance, and some are also misled by rumours.
"Imagine what kind of confidence it would give if political leaders and celebrities take the shot," said an official.
With election campaigns raising fresh concerns, the state government is hoping that the early vaccination for the political workers and politicians could pave way for the underutilised doses to protect large vulnerable groups besides boosting public confidence for vaccination.
Authorities are also asking for a self-registration system so all those wanting to be vaccinated can get it done immediately.
Srinivas Rao, a retired pharma professional, welcomed the idea. The 59-year-old said that there is at least one case at any given point of time in his apartment complex. Mr Rao, who also has his aged parents staying with him, added, "Instead of living in fear that we may contract the disease, early vaccination will give us some protection for the virus."
In Trichy, another senior citizen, Lieutenant colonel (retired) Paul Devadason, is also eager to get himself vaccinated. He says for over the last one year he and his wife remain confined to their home and the vaccination will give them the confidence to step out.
"We have been home most of the time this last one year and it can be frustrating. We have not seen the environment outside. We could not even go for long walks. The sooner we get the vaccination, the better for us as we are waiting anxiously," he said.
Tamil Nadu's daily COVID-19 count has now come down from around 7,000 to about 450.