India will ensure every citizen gets a coronavirus vaccine but the candidates must first pass all scientific tests, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a meeting with chief ministers of eight states, where he also confirmed a priority list for those who will get a shot first: frontline workers, people above the age of 50, and those with comorbidities.
The meeting included the CMs of Delhi, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and West Bengal, regions that have witnessed high number of cases or fatalities due to Covid-19.
India is following the race for vaccines closely, the PM said, according to a government statement, adding: “If speed is important, than safety is equally important. What we develop will be scientifically validated.”
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He also said that for vaccine distribution, the Centre is working with states, which will “ultimately be in a better position to say what is required on ground” and assured them that a detailed plan will be shared soon.
“PM made it clear that in the first stage, the vaccine will be given to the frontline health workers, in the second stage to the police personnel, sanitation workers etc; to those above 50 years of age in third stage; and to those with co-morbid conditions in the fourth stage,” Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani quoted the PM as saying, according to ANI. The statement was confirmed by Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope.
The state minister, citing discussions during the meeting, also quoted the CM as saying that the key frontline and essential workers as part of the first phase could come up to about 300 million people.
“He (PM) said the vaccine may come in the next 4-5 weeks. He also said to be on alert to ensure Covid doesn’t spread,” Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa told reporters at Mysuru airport following a second meeting that involved a larger group of chief ministers from across the country.
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Modi’s remarks, his first in detail on the vaccine distribution plan, comes a day after University of Oxford and British pharma firm AstraZeneca announced their vaccine candidate had shown up to 90% efficacy in late-stage trials.
This inoculation is largely believed to be the first one that is likely to be approved and distributed in India, since Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) is among manufacturing partners and has committed to reserving half of the doses it produces for the country. It is also cheaper than the main rivals that have shown efficacy and easier to store and transport.
According to a government statement, Modi assured the CMs that the government’s focus will be to get the vaccine to everyone. “It’s a sort of national commitment from the government towards Indian citizens. Two indigenous vaccines are in advance stages of trials, and there also are others being tested in India that have been developed globally but the manufactures have tied with local partners,” he told the chief ministers.
The PM also added a word of caution. “We have to also look into the possibility of dealing with side-effects related to the vaccine; as people tend to develop a reaction to even medicines that are in use for a very long time. Even after 20 years or so there are side-effects seen of certain medicines, which may be also possible with the Covid-19 vaccines,” he said.
Modi asked chief ministers to prepare cold storage and other infrastructure for vaccine logistics, assuring them that states would be taken on board for the vaccine drive, “just as the Centre and the states are fighting Covid together,” according to an official who was aware of the discussions.
The Centre has written to states to prepare to deal with any side-effects, in addition to asking them to prepare databases of those who will be on priority lists for the inoculation.
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Union health minister Harsh Vardhan earlier shared a rough draft of the priority list. “Almost 25-30 crore people will be given vaccine in the initial phase. This vaccine will have to be administered at least twice within the gap of two-three weeks to each person. Naturally we will have to prioritise. Corona warriors will be our natural priority, including health care and frontline workers, then 65 plus elderly population and those who are 50-65 years old, and then 50 years and less people with diseases. All this is being scientifically decided after going through the opinion of several experts…,” he had said at a conference last week.
“The interim vaccine trial results are showing promise, as up to 90% efficacy is more than acceptable for respiratory illness vaccine. India is a large country and phasing the vaccine delivery on where and whom you choose to give the shot based on their risk of exposure, makes sense,” says Dr GC Khilnani, former head, pulmonary department, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi.
Modi also told the CMs that they should firm up efforts to curb infections, and focus on reducing the rate of test positivity and fatality. “We need to work towards bringing down the positive rate to nearly 5 per cent and the fatality rate to under 1 per cent and called for more RT-PCR tests,” he said.
The meeting, in addition to Rupani and Yediyurappa, included Union home minister Amit Shah and health minister Harsh Vardhan, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray and Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel.
“At the start of the outbreak the government had to take certain tough measures but that was to ready the country for dealing with the pandemic. Now that we are ready we need to keep the momentum going,” Modi said.
Modi reiterated on the need to understand public behaviour, the official quoted above said.
“The first stage of people’s response to Covid was of fear, when people reacted in panic. The second stage saw doubts about the virus, when several people tried to hide that they had been afflicted by it. The third stage was of acceptance, when people became more serious about the virus and displayed greater alertness. In the fourth stage, with increasing recovery rate, people have developed a false notion of security from the virus, thus leading to rise in instances of negligence,” this official quoted the PM as saying.
(With inputs from HTC in Mumbai and Bengaluru)
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