Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Saturday that vaccination against COVID-19 for children between 15-18 years will start from January 3, while "precaution dose" for healthcare and frontline workers would be administered from January 10, decisions that come amid rising Covid cases linked to the Omicron variant of the virus.
In an address to the nation, he said the precaution dose will also be available for citizens above 60 years of age and with comorbidities on the advice of their doctor from January 10 next year as well.
The precaution dose denotes a third dose of the vaccine for the fully vaccinated but Modi refrained from using the term "booster dose", as it is generally referred.
Amid Christmas and the coming new year festivities, Modi asked people to be alert and take all preventive measures but added that they should avoid panic as he reassured them about the health measures in place to deal with any exigencies.
Administration of nasal vaccine and world's first DNA vaccine against Covid will soon start in India as well, he said.
The prime minister said global experience shows that following all preventive measures at a personal level is "big weapon" to fight Covid and so is vaccination.
This is time to be careful, while engaging in festivities, he said.
"I would urge all of you not to panic, be careful and alert. Remember to mask up and keep washing hands," Modi said.
Noting that India started giving the vaccine to its citizens from January 16 this year, Modi said due to the people's collective effort and will, India has crossed the "unprecedented" and very difficult milestone of having administered 141 crore vaccine doses.
"Today, more than 61 per cent of India's adult population has received both doses of the vaccine. Similarly, about 90 per cent of the adult population has received single dose of the vaccine," he said.
Underlining that he was sharing key decisions with the people of the country on the occasion of Christmas, Modi said that vaccination for children between the age of 15 years to 18 years, will start in the country on January 3, 2022.
This will reduce the worries of children going to schools and colleges and their parents, and boost the fight against the pandemic, Modi said, adding that the move is also likely to aid in normalisation of teaching in schools.
"We all have experienced that the corona warriors, healthcare and frontline workers made a huge contribution in keeping the country safe in this fight. They still spend a lot of his time in the service of coronavirus patients," he said.
"Therefore, from the point of view of precaution, the government has decided that 'precaution dose' of vaccine will be administered to healthcare and frontline workers from January 10, Monday" Modi said.
This will strengthen the confidence of healthcare and frontline workers, he said.
Giving an overview of healthcare infrastructure in the nation, Modi said that as the virus is mutating, "our confidence to take on challenges is also multiplying".
"Our innovative spirit is also growing. The country today has 18 lakh isolation beds, 5 lakh oxygen supported beds, 1,40,000 ICU beds. If ICU and non-ICU beds are taken together, there are about 90,000 beds for children. Today the country has over 3,000 PSA oxygen plants functioning and four lakh oxygen cylinders have been provided across the country," he said.
"States are being helped to prepare a buffer dose of necessary medicines. They are also being provided with adequate testing kits," he said.
Lauding scientists and health workers, he said the seriousness of vaccine was identified very early and along with research on it, work was also focussed on approval process, supply chain, distribution, training, IT support system and certification.
Modi emphasised that India's fight against the virus has from the very beginning been based on scientific principles, scientific consultation and scientific method.
Eleven-month vaccine campaign, the prime minister said, has brought relief and normalcy in the everyday lives of the countrymen.
Economic activities have been encouraging compared to many countries of the world, he said while noting that alertness remains of paramount importance.
He also cautioned against efforts to spread rumours, confusion and fear by some quarters.
Modi's address came on a day officials said the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has granted emergency use authorisation to indigenously-developed Bharat Biotech's Covaxin for children above 12 years with certain conditions.
It is the second vaccine to receive the regulator's nod for use among those below 18 years after Zydus Cadila's needle-free COVID-19 vaccine ZyCoV-D.