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Panel to track at-risk comorbid patients

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NITI Aayog member-health V.K. Paul.

The Indian government has set up a committee to suggest ways to identify a priority group of about 10 million people below 50 years of age, who have multiple disorders such as severe hypertension and diabetes, for vaccination against covid-19 when the shots are available, NITI Aayog member-health V.K. Paul said on Tuesday.

“A committee has been constituted, which is actively working and has something like 12 experts or maybe more belonging to various specialities, including cancer, kidney, lung, heart, and we are expecting their report very soon, in the next few days,” Paul said at a press conference on Tuesday.

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The identification process is likely to involve certification by the patients’ doctors, Paul said, adding that the panel has been asked to consider issues such as the severity of the disease while prioritizing these groups. Paul cited the example of hypertension, which affects around 30% of India’s population, with most having the mild form of high blood pressure.

Mild hypertension patients below 50 years of age may not be given priority, but severe hypertension patients will be, he said.

“This is a technical area. This is in the domain of clinical and epidemiological sciences, and this is the kind of group that is working on it, and we will come forth with their recommendations and the view of the NEGVAC (National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for covid-19) when the report is made available. But this will be available well in time, and we are on track for this,” Paul said.

Paul is also the chairman of NEGVAC, which is tasked with coming up with measures for distribution, logistics and selection of participants and vaccines.

Apart from those below 50 years with comorbidities, NEGVAC has identified healthcare and other frontline workers, and those above 50 years as groups that will receive covid-19 vaccines on priority when they are available.

These are high-risk groups, with healthcare and other frontline workers also having strategic importance in the fight against the pandemic.

The health ministry and states have already started identifying healthcare workers, and other frontline workers, including security personnel and municipal workers.

“The latest electoral roll for Lok Sabha and legislative assembly election will be used to identify population aged 50 years or more,” the government has said in its operational guidelines.

However, identification of people below 50 years of age with comorbidities is a major challenge as there is no record of such people, especially in rural areas where screening of diseases like diabetes, hypertension and kidney ailments is not widely done.

The operational guidelines do not mention how these people will be identified.

Officials from two large private hospital chains Mint spoke to, on condition of anonymity, said that neither they nor their doctors have yet been told about the identification of people with comorbidities.

According to the government’s estimate, there are around 10 million healthcare workers in the country, while other frontline workers like security personnel and municipal workers total 20 million.

The government also estimates 260 million people above the age of 50 and has currently pegged those below 50 and with comorbidities at another 10 million.

These people are expected to be vaccinated against covid-19 by August, according to the government.

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