Health Ministry directs States to improve COVID-19 vaccine coverage

A swab sample of an air traveller for COVID-19 test being collected at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. File

A swab sample of an air traveller for COVID-19 test being collected at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Over 3.66 crore first doses of COVID vaccines have been administered in the 12-14 years age group, according to a Health Ministry report of Thursday, with the Ministry advocating for increased vaccination coverage for children and the elderly population, following a rise in cases from several parts of the country.

“More than 193.53 crore vaccine doses have been provided to States and more than 11.59 crore balance and unutilised vaccine doses are still available with States,’’ the Health Ministry said.

It added that States have been directed to accelerate vaccination coverage, especially of the 60-plus years elderly population, and that of the second dose in the 12-17 years population groups. “States are to also ensure that vaccines that expire first are administered first, preventing any wastage of resources,’’ the Ministry said.

In addition, the Ministry has now advised States to follow the ‘Operational Guidelines for Revised Surveillance Strategy in context of COVID-19’ issued by the Centre on June 9. The revised surveillance guidelines call for sewage and wastewater surveillance, which may provide early warnings on a potential local surge of COVID-19, the Ministry said in its communication to the States.

The Ministry has also advised States to initiate random RT-PCR screening of about 2% of international passengers in each incoming flight, and genomic sequencing of all positive specimens. These measures are aimed at the long-term integration of COVID-19 surveillance within the existing Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) mechanism.

In his letter to State governments, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan asked States to adhere to the revised strategy, focusing on early detection; timely management of suspected and confirmed cases; and containment of outbreaks of new coronavirus variants.

According to the revised strategy, all healthcare facilities are to report ‘influenza like illness’ (ILI) cases, and monitor Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) cases in all district hospitals and select tertiary hospitals, and undertake their RT-PCR tests for COVID-19. District Surveillance Officers (DSO) will be responsible for analysing the data. “Five per cent of ILI cases shall be tested through RT-PCR,’’ the Health Ministry added.

State IDSP are also required to share data on a fortnightly basis, and labortatories testing for COVID-19 should upload their data on Indian Council for Medical Research portal. “Please ensure that the guidelines are disseminated to all districts, and identified health facilities and labs across the state and their implementation shall be ensured,’’ the letter said.

The revised strategy further stressed on community-based surveillance for early detection of unusual events in the community, such as large outbreaks, unusual clinical presentation of cases, mortality, etc.

Mr. Bhushan said the three-pronged genomic surveillance strategy should be implemented by States, and positive samples from large clusters, or outbreaks in the community and unusual events, should also be sent for whole genome sequencing.

“I am sure the State governments and UT [Union Territory] administrations shall make these guidelines to enable us to retain and build on the gains made so far in this fight against COVID-19,” the letter said.

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Printable version | Aug 6, 2022 11:00:06 am |