KERALA HAS requested the Centre to expedite key issues related to Covid-19 vaccination, including immunisation of children, providing booster doses to the co-morbid population and reducing the gap of the second dose of Covishield.
Speaking at The Indian Express’s Idea Exchange session, Kerala Health Minister Veena George said, “Regarding vaccination of children, I myself have written to Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviyaji to take a quick decision on vaccinating our children. And also about reducing the period between the first and second dose (of Covishield).”
On May 13, the Centre accepted the Covid Working Group’s recommendation and extended the gap between the first and second doses of Covishield to 12-16 weeks, or after 84 days, from the earlier 6-8 weeks.
George cited the state’s significant NRI population to argue why Kerala wants the existing gap of 84 days between the two doses to be reduced.
“Now it is 84 days. But we have asked the Central government to reduce the period because, as you know, Kerala is a state where we have many NRIs. Many of our people work abroad and if they come here and take the first dose of vaccine, it will be difficult for them to stay for 84 days to take the second dose. So we have asked for the gap to be reduced. I have received a letter from the Union Health Minister that the Central government will consider it,” George said.
On June 7, the Centre had made an exception in the 84-day rule for persons undertaking international travel for education or employment opportunities with the onus on states to check the genuineness of the purpose of travel.
On the need for a booster dose of the Covid vaccine, especially considering the prevalence of non-communicable diseases in close to 30 per cent of the state’s population, George said, “I have already written a letter to the Union (Health) Minister to have a quick decision on the booster dose also. I think the Central government will be considering it. My principal secretary has taken up the issue with the secretary, Union Health Ministry. And I have written to the minister. We are awaiting their decision.”
George, however, underlined that a decision on the booster dose will be based on expert opinion. “We have more number of people with lifestyle diseases — diabetes, hypertension, etc. We have analysed Covid-19 deaths and it was more in people with these comorbidities. It is good if they get a booster dose. This is why we have decided to request the Central government to take a decision on giving booster doses. Again, it is not our decision, the experts have to decide… And the Centre will have to take an opinion from experts and I hope a good decision will be taken soon,” George said.
At 70,251, Kerala currently has the highest number of active Covid-19 cases in the country. It is also reporting the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in the country. However, George said, the state’s case fatality rate — the share of deaths among those diagnosed with the infection — still continues to be lower than the national average, and that the health systems were not overwhelmed even during the peak of the second wave. Kerala’s case fatality rate stands at 0.6% against the national average of 1.3%.
“The state’s geography and population can be compared to that of some European countries. It is like a large city. If you look at the state and its population density — it is double the national average. We also have a high proportion of senior citizens. We also have a very high percentage of people with lifestyle diseases. These are our challenges. But when you analyse our work and strategy, there was not a single case where a person died because of not getting oxygen or without hospital support,” George said.
“Our strategy has been to keep the number of patients below the hospital capacity. At this stage, where every day we are reporting 6,000-7,000 cases, if we look at hospital occupancy or ICU occupancy, it is very less. Our hospitals have never operated in pressure mode. The progression of the second wave in the state was not like a tsunami,” she said.