India will begin COVID-19 vaccination from Jan. 16, the country’s Health Ministry announced on Saturday.

A ministry statement said: “After a detailed review, it was decided that in view of the forthcoming festivals including Lohri, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Magh Bihu etc., the COVID-19 vaccination will start from Jan. 16, 2021.”

According to the ministry, the vaccine rollout will prioritize healthcare personnel and frontline workers who are estimated to be around 30 million, “followed by those above 50 years of age and the under-50 population groups with co-morbidities, numbering around 270 million.”

After chairing a meeting on the status of coronavirus on Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “On 16th January, India takes a landmark step forward in fighting COVID-19. Starting that day, India’s nation-wide vaccination drive begins. Priority will be given to our brave doctors, healthcare workers, frontline workers including Safai Karamcharis [sweepers].”

The premier was also apprised of the Co-WIN Vaccine delivery management system. “The unique digital platform will provide real time information of vaccine stocks, their storage temperature and individualized tracking of beneficiaries of the COVID-19 vaccine… more than 79 lakh [7.9 million] beneficiaries have been already registered on the platform,” the statement said.

Today’s announcement of vaccination has come following India’s drug regulatory authority last Sunday approved two coronavirus vaccines for “restricted use in emergency situations” in the country.

The approvals were given to the Covishield and Covaxin vaccines.

The Pune-based Serum Institute of India is manufacturing the Covishield vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, while Covaxin is the country’s indigenous vaccine and is made by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research.

While the approvals faced some criticism, Drugs Controller General of India Dr. Venugopal G. Somani, however, last Sunday said that the vaccines are safe.

Meanwhile, recording a decline in the daily cases, the country on Saturday reported over 18,000 new cases, taking the total cases to 10.43 million. The death toll stands at 150,798, the ministry said.

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