The Centre on Saturday said that healthcare and other frontline workers can no longer register themselves on the government portal for getting coronavirus vaccines, PTI reported.

India is currently in its third phase of coronavirus vaccination drive with everyone above the age of 45 now eligible for the shots. The country launched its vaccination drive on January 16, but it was limited to healthcare workers and frontline staff. From March 1, the eligibility criteria was expanded to include people over 60 and those who are between 45 and 59 but have other illnesses. The third phase began on April 1.

In a letter to all the states and Union Territories, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said that some frontline workers, who are not eligible for vaccinations anymore, were found enlisting themselves for the shot in the third phase of the immunisation drive. He said there had been a 24% increase in the database of healthcare workers on the CoWin portal in the past few days.

Bhushan asked the states to discourage this practice as it was in violation of the health ministry guidelines. At the same time, he directed officials to ensure that workers who registered for the shots on time are vaccinated at the earliest.

Bhushan said that when India’s inoculation programme began in January, the Centre made all efforts to get as many frontline workers vaccinated as possible. Since then, the timeline for giving all such priority groups their first dose had been extended multiple times and was finally fixed at February 25 for healthcare workers and March 6 for other frontline workers, he added.

Around one month has elapsed since these timelines and the country had started to vaccinate those above 60 years, the health official noted.

But, “various inputs have been received from different sources that in some of the Covid-19 vaccination centres (CVCs), some ineligible beneficiaries are being registered as HCWs [healthcare workers] and FLWs [frontline workers] and are getting vaccinated in complete violation of the prescribed guidelines,” he said.

Bhushan said that the matter was discussed with state representatives and domain knowledge experts in a meeting of National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19, where it was decided that no fresh registrations in categories of HCWs and FLWs will be allowed with immediate effect.

“Registrations of persons aged 45 years and above will continue to be permitted on CoWIN portal,” he said in the letter. “I request you to kindly direct the officials concerned for wider dissemination of this policy decision for compliance. However, universal vaccination of already registered HCWs and FLWs should be ensured at the earliest.”

India aims to vaccinate 4 crore people by August, but experts say the pace needs to pick up further to meet the target. The third phase opens amid a sharp surge in Covid-19 cases over the past month.