New Delhi The health ministry on Saturday halted new registrations for healthcare and front line workers to receive coronavirus vaccines, citing a barrage of sign-ups of ineligible people under these categories in recent days in centres across the country.

No new sign-ups will now be accepted for people in these two categories – who did not have an age bar – but healthcare and front line workers who have already registered can take doses.

“Various inputs have been received from different sources that in some of the CVCs (Covid Vaccination Centres) some ineligible beneficiaries are being registered as healthcare workers and frontline workers and are getting vaccinated in complete violation of the prescribed guidelines,” said a letter by Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan to states informing of the change in the registrations process.

Bhushan said there was an increase of 24% in the database of the healthcare workers in the “past few days” itself. The decision was taken after discussion at a meeting of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) on Saturday.

The announcement came within hours of the Uttarakhand chief minister saying journalists of all ages in the state will be eligible for vaccines as front line workers. “During the ongoing pandemic, the journalists in the state worked like front line workers in providing the required information to the people about Covid-19 which helped the government significantly,” said Tirath Singh Rawat.

A similar decision was announced by the administration in Ludhiana, which classified judges, teachers as well as journalists as front line workers.

Experts and doctors have previously said sign-ups under these categories may not be fool-proof since it there is no verification mechanism to determine the profession of those registering.

The vaccination drive, which started on January 16, was meant to first immunise 300 million people who belong to three categories: healthcare workers, front line workers, and those at greater risk from Covid-19 due to their age or existing medical conditions.

The first to receive the shots were 10 million healthcare workers and the drive was opened up to 20 million front line workers February 1 onwards. On March 1, the government allowed people above the age of 60 and those between the ages of 45 and 59 years with a combination of 20 specified comorbidities to take the shots.

On April 1, the government relaxed it further to allow anyone above the age of 45 to take the dose, but experts have repeatedly said the drive must be opened to anyone who seeks a vaccine in order to get ahead of the raging second wave of infections.

“We should quickly vaccinate as many people over the age of 18 years as we can. There is still a large proportion of susceptible population that is leading to the second wave of the infection. So far, we have immunised around 7 crore (70 million) people, which translates to about 5 to 6% of the population. With a 71% efficacy in preventing infections for AstraZeneca vaccine, we have only about 4% of the population protected. And, majority are yet to receive the second dose of the vaccine,” said Dr GC Khilnani, former head of the pulmonology department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi (AIIMS).

The vaccination drive for healthcare workers was first planned to end on February 25 and for front line workers on March 6. The registrations were closed briefly were later re-opened once the vaccination of the old and the co-morbid began in March to ensure that any healthcare and frontline workers who had been left out were vaccinated.

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