The administration has been able to vaccinate only 5.15 lakh people out of the 36.27 lakh people eligible for a booster dose, since many have not completed nine months since their second dose.

A health worker administering COVID-19 vaccine to a young womanImage credit: PTI
Delve Health Wednesday, February 16, 2022 - 15:34

Vaccination for children aged between 15 and 18 years is going on at a robust pace in Tamil Nadu with 81% coverage in the state, but it is the booster dose coverage that is worrying the health authorities. “Booster shots can be given only nine months after the second dose and Tamil Nadu’s vaccination numbers were poor from January to April when the vaccine was being rolled out. So for February, we only have a limited population that qualifies for the precautionary dose, despite having plenty of stock” says Health secretary Dr J Radhakrishnan speaking to TNM.

The state has to vaccinate a total of 36.27 lakh people with the precautionary dose. This split into Health Care Workers (5.65 lakh), Front Line Workers (9.78 lakh) and comorbid patients above 60 years of age (20.83 lakh). In January 2022, around 10.7 lakh people across Tamil Nadu were eligible for the booster shot. This includes 2.7 lakh health care workers, 2.7 lakh front line workers and about 5 lakh comorbid persons above 60 years of age.

However, the state data shows that until February 14, only 5.15 lakh persons have been administered the booster dose, out of which 1,07,971 beneficiaries were concentrated in Chennai city. Those given precautionary dose includes 92,513 health care workers, 1,19,994 front line workers and 3,03, 132 comorbid persons above 60 years of age.  This is about 16.37% of health care workers (HCW), 12.27 % of front line workers (FLW) and 14.55% of 60+ persons with comorbidities. However, this pool is less than half of the state’s target population to be vaccinated in January. 

 

              Booster dose administration data in Tamil Nadu as on February 14, 2022

While the state successfully maneuvered various roadblocks in administering the first and second doses of the vaccine in 2021, this year Dr Radhakrishnan believes that a new set of challenges await the health department with the booster dose administration. 

“In the first half of 2021, vaccine stock, supply and logistics were a problem. The state would have to keep asking the Union government for more doses in order to keep the vaccination drive going. However this time, we have no such issues. There is adequate vaccine stock for booster doses. But we have other challenges to look into,” Dr Radhakrishnan says. 

One of the major challenges is delays due to complacency, the health secretary points out. “With a dip in cases, people have stopped wearing masks, and have delayed taking the vaccine. We have noticed this trend. People think it is okay to not take the booster dose. Some of them don’t even take the second dose on time as they have a false notion that the risk of catching COVID-19 is lesser with the drop in cases,” he explains. But if you catch it, the infection can impact an unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated patient much worse than what it could do to a vaccinated patient. Moreover, with the Omicron wave, the fear of catching COVID-19 too has reduced drastically, mainly due to the mild nature of the infection caused by this strain. 

Upto February 14, around 1.14 crore people in Tamil Nadu were due for their second dose (out of this 81.55 lakh persons were due for their second dose of Covishield and 32.28 lakh were due for Covaxin). 

Further, the district-wise divide continues with districts such as Ranipet, Mayiladuthurai, Tirupattur, Dharmapuri etc clocking less than 80% coverage for the first dose and less than 55% for the second dose, making the populations here more vulnerable.

 

 

  Covid-19 dose coverage in vulnerable districts  

In comparison, urban districts such as Chennai fare way better with 97.45% and 78.98 % of its population vaccinated with the first and second doses respectively. Coimbatore performed even better with 98.75% and 87.50% of its population vaccinated with the first and second doses respectively.

“Increasing second dose and booster coverage is our focus now. In the last few waves in Tamil Nadu and even across the country, it was vaccination that played a key role in bringing down the COVID-19 deaths. With the delta and omicron waves, we have noticed that 97% of the deaths were people with comorbidities. Out of this, 68% were unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated, and 95% of them were above 50 years of age,” he added. 

Vaccinating 15-17 age group 

Compared to booster dose administration, vaccination of the 15-17 age group population in Tamil Nadu is picking up fast. According to state’s data, there are around 33.46 lakh children between 15 to 17 years in Tamil Nadu who are eligible for vaccination. Out of this 81% (27.19 lakh) has received the first dose, and 28% (9.29 lakh) of the eligible population has received the second dose across the state. In Chennai city alone, 2.25 lakh beneficiaries in the 15-17 age group have received at least one dose of vaccine. This is 89% of the eligible population in this age group.

“Children in private, government and aided schools are being vaccinated with drives conducted in schools etc. However, there are around 5.99 lakh children who are not in these schools and identifying and vaccinating them is the challenge,” Radhakrishnan says.

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