Over 900 students of the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, received Covid-19 vaccines last week, despite being under the age threshold prescribed by the Indian government for vaccinations, several people on campus told Scroll.in.
India is currently vaccinating people above the age of 45. On Monday, Maharashtra, which accounts for nearly half of India’s Covid-19 cases, asked the Centre to allow it to vaccinate those aged 25 and more. The Centre declined its request.
The Union health ministry also turned down a request from the Department of Higher Education on March 25 to vaccinate all students, faculty and staff members at Centrally Funded Technical Institutions, including Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management.
It is unclear how IIT Gandhinagar was able to bypass the Centre’s guidelines and vaccinate its students, a majority of whom are not even 25 years old.
Scroll.in accessed two official emails that alerted students of the engineering institution to the vaccination drive which took place at a health centre on campus between March 30 and April 2. They were informed that the vaccine being administered in the drive was Covishield.
Along with faculty members and staff, students, even those living outside the campus, were given the vaccines, said a person at the university who is familiar with the situation and did not wish to be identified. He said that at least 940 students and nearly 250 faculty members and other staffers were vaccinated. The doses were administered by the university’s dispensary doctors and nurses.
“The GMC [Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation] was involved and arranged the vaccines for us,” he said. Scroll.in confirmed this account with others who had received the vaccines. They requested anonymity since they had been directed to not speak about the vaccination drive.
Scroll.in contacted the communications officer of the institute who asked for questions to be sent over email. Six hours later, there has been no response to the email. This article will be updated if the institute responds.
Asked about the vaccination drive at IIT Gandhinagar, the city’s municipal commissioner Ratankanvar H Gadhvicharan said: “I will have to look into it. According to government instructions, only above 45 and frontline workers are eligible.”
At least 25 students of IIT Gandhinagar had tested positive for the virus last month, PTI reported on March 27.
India is currently seeing a massive second wave of coronavirus infections. The rising cases have created anxiety over the slow pace of vaccinations.
The country started its vaccination drive on January 16, by initially administering doses only to healthcare and frontline workers. On March 1, the drive was expanded to senior citizens above the age of 60 years and those above 45 with co-morbidities. On April 1, it was widened to all above the age of 45.
So far, over eight crore vaccine doses have been administered across the country.
Six states, including Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, have complained of vaccine shortages. The Union health minister, in turn, accused state governments of making “deplorable attempts” to spread panic.
“Most concerning of all are the statements being made by a section of political leaders asking to open up vaccination to everyone above the age of 18, or to drastically lower the minimum age criteria for vaccination eligibility,” health minister Harsh Vardhan said. “So long as the supply of vaccines remains limited, there is no option but to prioritise. This is also the established practice around the world and is well known to all state governments.”