Over 29 lakh people had registered – online or via the Aarogya Setu app – by 8.30 pm Monday, the first day of the public rollout of the Covid vaccines, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan told NDTV.
Dr Vardhan even suggested the actual number could be as much as a crore, because each individual who registered could add up to four others.
“I had checked the data before speaking with you… till 8.30 pm over 29 lakh people have registered on the platform. And, you see, if one person registers, s/he has the facility of registering for four family members,” Dr Vardhan told NDTV.
“So, if you take the average of one person registering for two, then it becomes almost 60 lakhs. And, if you think everyone is registering for four of his family, then it crosses one crore,” he added.
Dr Vardhan also urged people to keep their guard up despite the rollout of the vaccines, and that people should continue to follow Covid-appropriate protocol “at least for a few months more”.
“The idea of vaccinating as many people as possible is to ensure that more and more people have antibodies, which you can either from being infected or the vaccine. This will strengthen our movement to herd immunity. Scientifically that helps in a big way… and ultimately that is the aim of vaccination – to protect people at individual level and at community and society level,” he said.
India began the second phase of the vaccination drive at 9 am Monday, shifting to the inoculation of around 27 crore people over 60 (and over 45 but with co-morbidities).
Registration for the shots can be done either via the CoWIN web portal or the Aarogya Setu app, with people given a choice of facility (government or private) from which to get the jab.
However, earlier on Monday many reported they were unable to book appointments. The platforms were accepting registrations but not allotting appointments at private facilities.
“You see, today being the first day, many of our private hospitals hadn’t put up the schedule (on the CoWin platform or the app) for the people. Tomorrow morning we will have a meeting with states, and through them private hospitals, and request them to put a detailed schedule, for the next month or so,” Dr Vardhan explained.
“These are not very significant issues. I think people may have faced issues like this on the first day… but you are not going to face most of these issues in the coming days,” he stressed.
The rollout of the vaccines to the public comes amid a spike in cases in a few states – most notably in Maharashtra, where over 6,300 infections were reported in the past 24 hours – and amid concerns over mutated strains of the virus spreading in India.
Dr Vardhan, who is scheduled to take his shot this morning at Delhi’s Heart and Lung Institute, said data at this stage indicated no link between new strains and the spike, which he attributed to easing off on required protocols like maintaining social distancing.
“The increase in the number of cases – in Maharashtra, Kerala or any other state – has nothing to do with the new Covid strains, either Brazilian, South African or from the UK,” he said, adding, “I am hopeful things are going to settle down and the recent spurt is not a permanent thing.”
The vaccines will be given at 10,000 government centres (free of cost) and 20,000 private ones (capped at Rs 250 per dose). Dr Vardhan said these costs could change in the future, depending on how many more vaccines are cleared for use, but cautioned “it is too early too look at this”.
To a question on late-stage trial data for Covaxin – which has still not released efficacy data – will be available, Dr Vardhan said “very soon”.
Covaxin is one of two vaccines in use in India for now (the other is Covishield). Dr Vardhan stressed that there were enough stocks of Covid vaccines available for the entire country, and to meet the demands of others.
Last month Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla told NDTV that although supplies would be sent to around 30 countries over the next few weeks, India would get priority shipments.