Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said on Sunday that coronavirus vaccines for India would be procured centrally and that details of this would be public in the coming months.
“The government is working round the clock to ensure fair and equitable distribution of vaccines once they are ready,” Vardhan said as he responded to questions from the public as well as BJP members during his weekly awareness programme.
“Lists of citizens groups which will require vaccines on top priority are being drawn up by the health ministry in association with the state governments. The ministry is currently preparing a format in which states will submit lists of priority population groups, especially health workers engaged in the management of COVID-19,” the minister informed.
The target is to complete this exercise by end of October, he said.
“Our rough estimate and the target would be to receive and utilise 400 to 500 million doses covering approximately 20-25 crore people by July 2021.
All this is still under various stages of finalisation,” he said.
SII, a private Indian company, is the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world.
But still now no government official had responded to a question by Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawala tagging the Prime Minister’s Office last week and asking whether the government had Rs 80,000 crore to buy and distibute the vaccine once it was available.
Vardhan on Sunday said that the government has taken loans worth Rs 15,000 crore from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, to manage COVID-19.
“The loan is on a reimbursement basis and the government is not dependent on funds from financial agencies for implementation of the Covid emergency response.
Giving vaccine to all countrymen is this government’s priority and nothing will come in the way of fulfilling this target,” he said.
Poonawala had also recently told CNN that his institute was aiming at producing over a billion doses of the various vaccine candidates, but vaccinating everyone in the world would take till 2024.
“Take India, we have a population of 1.4 billion… By July-August next year, even if we were to produce 400 million doses, they’re still going to struggle to vaccinate everyone using those doses,” he said.
Vardhan on Sunday said the government was extending full support to Indian vaccine manufacturers without specifying details of this.
Replying to a question on how the government planned to deter the COVID-19 vaccine from going into the black market, the minister said that government would distribute the vaccines as per a pre-decided priority and in a programmed manner.
The minister said they would be “appropriately distributed” and that details of the same would be made known in the “coming months”.
Vardhan said that distribution of the vaccine “to each and everybody in the country” was the government’s “highest priority” right now.
He said plans for this were being drawn by a high-level committee of experts and involved the Union health ministry, the NITI AYOG chairman and National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
This committee was also obtaining timelines from manufactures for availability of the vaccine and looking into supply chain management.
Vardhan said once available, each consignment of the vaccine would be tracked in real-time to make sure it reaches those who need it the most.
He said the among the top priority would be getting the vaccine to healthcare workers, to those above 65, and to those with underlying health conditions.
In reply to another question, Vardhan said it would be prudent to use whichever vaccine becomes available immediately regardless of country of origin.
However, the minister said that for vaccines developed outside India there would be need to be studies proving its efficacy on the Indian population before it is approved for use in the country.