Listen to this article:
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a televised speech on Saturday night, announcing an extension of the COVID-19 vaccination programme for children aged 15-18 and booster doses for healthcare workers, frontline workers and those above the age of 60 who have co-morbidities.
While the vaccines for children will be rolled out from January 3, the booster doses will begin from January 10.
Scientists have been urging the government for some time now to begin giving booster doses (which Modi called ‘precaution doses’) to the population, as the omicron variant spreads in various parts of the world. A doctors’ group also recently came out in favour of vaccines for children.
Modi began his speech with Christmas wishes and noted that another year is coming to an end. “Along with enthusiasm and joy, we also need to be careful. Because of the omicron variant of COVID-19, several countries are seeing a rise in cases. The variant has been seen in India too.”
“Be careful,” Modi said, “but there is no need to panic. Remember to wear your masks and wash your hands at regular intervals.”
The prime minister also said that country was much more prepared to deal with COVID-19 today, with a larger number of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, isolation centres, a higher vaccination rates and more. He said India also has “90,000 hospital beds for children”.
In addition to these, India has also been taking the COVID-19 vaccination drive very seriously, Modi said. “Right from the start, India has been working on coronavirus vaccine creation, distribution, etc.” Through the combined efforts of Indians, he continued, the country has been able to vaccinate more 61% of the population with both doses. About 90% of the population has received at least one dose, he added.
States with high tourism rates like Himachal Pradesh and Goa, he added, have achieved 100% coverage of one dose. “This is the effect of our skilled healthcare workforce, healthcare facilities, the faith in science,” he said. “Soon, a nasal vaccine and the world’s first DNA vaccine will be available in India.”
“Right from the start,” Modi continued, “India’s fight against COVID-19 has been based on science. The vaccination drive began 11 months ago. Economic activity too is on the rise. But we all know that COVID-19 is not over yet. At a time like this, attentiveness is very important.”
The government has been tracking who should be given priority vaccines, when the drive should be extended, and so on based on advice from scientists, he said. So far, different countries have had different experiences with omicron. “Indian scientists are watching the situation closely. Based on that, we have taken a few decisions.”
“Since it is both Atal ji’s [Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s] birthday and Christmas, I thought I should share this news with you. Children aged 15-18 can access COVID-19 vaccines from January 3, 2022. This will help India’s fight against COVID-19, and also reduce the worry of school- and college-going students and their parents.”
“Healthcare workers are spending many hours of their day tending to COVID-19 patients even today. So, healthcare and frontline workers will not be given another ‘precaution dose’ [booster shot] starting from January 10.”
“We have also noticed that the elderly and those with co-morbidities need to take extra precautions. So, those above the age of 60 who have co-morbidities can now access booster doses, from January 10, on the advice of their doctor,” Modi said.
Unlike his previous ‘addresses to the nation’, which were announced a few hours in advance, Saturday night’s announcement came just 15 minutes before the speech was televised.