Experts Suggest Creating “Pool” of Medical Students for COVID Vaccination in a Mission Mode

Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Oct 22: Even as several scientists and experts in India and abroad forecasting that Coronavirus “has come to stay with us for a prolonged period,” some doctors in India are echoing the prime minister Narendra Modi’s vision to take up vaccination in the country in a “mission mode.”

A group of scientists and doctors participating in a health and life science programme said considering that Corona vaccine would become available in India by April 2021, “vaccination be carried out in a mission mode – ‘National COVID Vaccination Mission’ (NCVM) – similar to the exercise of holding the General Election, with a target to cover 5o percent of the population (approximately 70 crore) by December 2021.”

“The Coronavirus will be around for ‘evermore’ as it is unlikely it will be eradicated,” a British scientist on the government’s advisory committee for the pandemic said on Wednesday,” although a vaccine would help improve the situation.”

Britain, like other countries in Europe, is currently in the grip of a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, with much of the country under local restrictions and more than 21,000 daily cases reported on Tuesday.

“We are going to have to live with this virus for evermore. There is very little chance that it’s going to become eradicated,” John Edmunds, a member of Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told lawmakers.

Although the coronavirus will be around indefinitely, Edmunds said the prospect of a vaccine towards the end of the winter should impact the government’s strategy now.

“If vaccines are just around the corner then, in my view, we should try and keep the incidence as low as we can now, because we will be able to use vaccines in the not too distant future,” he said.

He said the U.K. had played a “clever game” in investing in different coronavirus vaccines. Britain has signed supply deals for six different COVID-19 vaccines, with 340 million doses secured across different types of technologies.

“I think we will be in a reasonable position in months,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to be vaccinating everybody but to start, maybe the highest risk people, healthcare workers and so on.”

In India, the experts are helping the government to work out a strategy to carry out the vaccination programme in a time-bound and effective manner whenever the much-sought about vaccine hit the market. The experts said the government and other stakeholders were focusing on issues related to vaccine procurement and distribution and cold chain issues, but despite all this planning, a shortage of human resources to administer the vaccine, the timeline for vaccinating the desired percentage of the population could get skewed.

The experts pointed out that assuming a single vaccination takes 20 minutes and a working period of eight hours per day, a worker would be able to vaccinate around 1,900 patients in about three months and it would require a pool of four lakh members of staff dedicated only to the COVID-19 vaccination to cover the targeted 70 crore population in six months.

The group said instead of putting further stress on the existing healthcare system by diverting the human resources for administering vaccines, it would be better to create a separate pool of human resources for this mission by calling on those students who are in their penultimate and final year of MBBS, BDS, AYUSH doctoral, nursing, pharmacy and other paramedical programs.

“This NCVM exercise should be conducted on similar lines as the National General Election with booths being created across the country, with student professionals administering the vaccine, supported by deputed government (non-medical) officials to carry out administrative duties,” the experts suggested.

They pointed out that presently, there were 529 medical colleges in India, churning out around 80,000 MBBS doctors every year. Additionally, 26,000 students complete their Bachelor in Dentistry, 55,000 nurses and 30,000 AYUSH doctors graduate annually. “If we consider the penultimate and final year students from all the above courses, the total pool will aggregate to around four lakh semi trained medical professionals – without considering other paramedical students as well as pharmacists (who also number around four lakh annually). This would create a workforce that may arise to the task to vaccinate the targeted 70 crore people in six months at the first instance,” the group said.

It will, however, be for the union health ministry to take a call on the suggestion and take the initiative to create the pool and start their training at the earliest.