He entered the scene at a time when utter chaos was prevailing in the State as to who should take a lead to contain COVID-19 pandemic. Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa had tried and tested a couple of Ministers by making in-charge to check pandemic but nothing worked out. A big drama unfolded when Health Department portfolio was taken away from Ballari mining baron B. Sriramulu and given to Medical Education Minister Dr. K. Sudhakar, a MBBS degree holder. But the storm in a tea cup became calm only after intervention by the CM.
The COVID-19 situation gradually improved, thanks to daily monitoring of situation and interaction with district-level health officers by Dr. Sudhakar. Non-working officials were shown the door and were replaced with young and energetic officers. Ramping up RT-PCR test across the State not only helped to bring down Corona positive cases but also the casualty rate. Despite his busy schedule, Dr. Sudhakar spoke to Star of Mysore on the current situation and mass inoculation plans. Excerpts. —Ed
Star of Mysore (SOM): COVID-19 cases are decreasing rapidly in Karnataka in the last one month? What magic did you do?
Dr. Sudhakar: The credit goes to all Corona Warriors and Government machinery under the leadership of Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa. Following the 5T strategy (Testing, Tracing, Treatment, Teamwork and Tracking) consistently and rigorously is the main reason behind the decreasing infection. We are conducting more than 1 lakh tests per day and more than 80 percent of our tests are RT-PCR test which is highest in the country.
Mysuru has less than 500 active cases and recovery rate stands at 97.23%. Zero COVID deaths were reported in 27 districts on Sunday including Mysuru. But, nonetheless we should not let our guard down. The virus thrives on our complacency. I urge people to continue to be vigilant and follow precautions like wearing mask, maintaining hand hygiene and following social distancing.
SOM: Scientists are predicting second wave? Is it true?
Dr. Sudhakar: I don’t want to speculate anything. But this is a Novel Coronavirus about which we know very little. For example, the UK is now witnessing the emergence of a new variant of Coronavirus. So, we should continue to be cautious and be prepared for all possible scenarios.
SOM: With Western countries giving permission for emergency use of three candidates, when will India finalise the vaccine?
Dr. Sudhakar: Vaccine candidates in India also have applied for an emergency use authorisation to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) and an independent Subject Expert Committee (SEC) is examining it. We have to be more than reasonably satisfied about safety, immunogenicity and effectiveness when we give an emergency use authorisation. The SEC will factor in all these and come to a decision soon.
SOM: How is Karnataka’s preparedness for mass inoculation?
Dr. Sudhakar: Karnataka is fully prepared for vaccine distribution. About 29,451 vaccine distribution centres and more than 10,000 trained vaccinators have been identified. 2,855 cold storage centres are available for storage of vaccines. Regional centres are being set up in Bengaluru, Shivamogga and Ballari.
SOM: What is the total number of beneficiaries in first round of vaccination? What about senior citizens and people above 50 years of age?
Dr. Sudhakar: Protecting the health system and reducing deaths is the primary goal of vaccination. As per World Health Organisation (WHO), frontline workers in health and social care settings, people over the age of 65 years and people under the age of 65 years who have underlying conditions that put them at a higher risk of death are the tiers of priorities in that order.
As per provisional plan for Phase-1 vaccination, Union Government is planning to vaccinate 30 crore people (600 million doses) which includes 1 crore healthcare workers, 2 crore frontline workers, 26 crore persons aged above 50 years and 1 crore persons aged below 50 years with comorbidities. Under Phase-1, more than 4.6 lakh healthcare workers, including those in Government and Private Sectors, have registered for the COVID-19 vaccination in Karnataka and State Government has shared the list with Centre.
SOM: A few months ago, door-to-door survey was conducted during Corona pandemic to collect details of every person along with their health details. Will the same data be used during first round of vaccination?
Dr. Sudhakar: As of now, we have compiled the data of healthcare workers. After this, we will plan for gathering data on frontline workers in the next phase.
SOM: If a person is ready to buy vaccine, will it be made available over the counter? And what about free vaccine for BPL families. Will they be vaccinated in first round or second round?
Dr.Sudhakar: The question does not arise now as the first phase will only involve vaccination of priority population based on vulnerability.
SOM: How many volunteers are trained for mass vaccination?
Dr.Sudhakar: We have identified more than 10,000 trained vaccinators for immunisation programme. Vaccination booths will be established similar to election booths. Each vaccination booth will have 2 vaccinators (Auxiliary Nursing Midwifery – ANM, Nurses, Male Multipurpose Health Worker, Pharmacist etc.), 1 assistant for maintaining data and records, 1 assistant for logistics and 2-3 persons (NCC, Volunteers) for crowd management. Detailed SOPs are being finalised in this regard.
SOM: Who will bear the cost of vaccine — State or Centre?
Dr.Sudhakar: The question does not arise now as no vaccine candidate has received licence nor do we know the cost of vaccine or number of dosages that may be required.
SOM: When will the entire population of Karnataka be covered under the vaccination? And how soon the State can start vaccination once the Government of India finalises the vaccine?
Dr.Sudhakar: The Government of India is preparing for an orderly and smooth implementation driven by technology. We must understand that the vaccine roll out will be a long process which might take a year or more. We also need to ensure that existing healthcare services, national programmes and primary care is not compromised. We will utilise the experience of elections and universal immunisation programme and ensure people’s participation for efficient and safe administration of vaccine.
SOM: Can you please share the total number of cold storages ready for storage of vaccine?
Dr.Sudhakar: Karnataka State has around 2,855 cold chain points for storage and distribution of vaccine. We have 2 State Vaccine Stores and 5 regional Vaccine Stores. Currently, the State has 10 Walk-in-Coolers (WIC) and 4 Walk-in-Freezers (WIF). Three WIC and 2 WIF are being supplied to Karnataka from Central Government. With a view to have a better supply chain network and distribution of vaccines in a more timely manner, 3 new regional vaccine stores — Bengaluru Urban, Shivamogga and Ballari — are being proposed taking into consideration the location of the districts, feasibility to distribute to the districts to strengthen the existing supply chain network. Karnataka would also be receiving additional 866 small Ice Lined Refrigerator, 64 large Ice Lined Refrigerator and 28 large Deep Freezers from the Centre.
Rational allocation to the districts has been done and region-wise consignee details with number of equipment to be shipped to the identified Regional Vaccine Stores and State Vaccine Stores have been communicated to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare from State Government.
SOM: Is vaccine voluntary or compulsory? Dr. Sudhakar: Not everyone may need the vaccine. Even the length of protection is uncertain and a booster dose may be required after sometime. Vaccination may require 2-3 doses with an interval of 3-4 weeks. We will have clarity on these questions only after a vaccine candidate receives necessary approvals from regulatory authorities.