Covid vaccine will be in India within weeks: PM Modi
India is set to get a Covid-19 vaccine within weeks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday while briefing political leaders on the preparations for “cheap and safe” Made in India vaccines, assuring them that immunisation would start as soon as scientists give a go-ahead.
“There are 8 potential vaccines at different stages of trials and their production will be in India. Three indigenous vaccines are also at different levels of trials. Experts believe it will not be a long wait for a Covid vaccine. It is believed that in the next few weeks, a Covid vaccine will be ready. As soon as scientists give the green signal, immunisation will start in India,” the PM said, virtually addressing an all-party meeting.
Modi’s remarks, two days after UK’s authorisation for Pfizer’s dose, was seen by some as an indication that emergency approval may be fast-tracked for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being produced by the Serum Institute of India. The other two local vaccines are unlikely to be ready in that time frame: Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin has started phase 3 trails but the results aren’t out yet; Zydus Cadila plans to start final trails in December.
On Saturday (November 28), SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said that SII could apply for emergency approval of the vaccine within two weeks.
Data from final trials in the UK and Brazil have shown the vaccine to be between 62% and 90% effective, depending on the dosage.
The Prime Minister assured the political leaders that Indian vaccines will be cheap but safe. He insisted on dispelling rumours for they are “never in public interest or national interest” and, for the first time, announced the priority list of beneficiaries.
“A few days ago, I had very successful talks with scientists involved in Made in India vaccines. Our scientists have high level of confidence and they are hopeful about success. We are hearing names of some foreign vaccines in the market. But world is looking for the cheap but safest vaccine. And that’s why it’s natural for the world to also look at India.”
At the HT leadership summit Poonawala said the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine could become available for the general public by April-May next year and is likely to cost around Rs 500-600 for a dose for the general public. He added that the vaccine could cost less, at $3-4 (Rs 220-295), when sold to the government.
Officials involved in the planning maintained that while indigenous vaccines are preferred candidates, procuring other vaccines can’t be ruled out as everything depends on the trial results. “But as of now, we are hopeful of immunising 290 million people or the first three priority groups with Made in India vaccines,” said a senior official familiar with the matter.
Modi made it clear that India will utilise its existing universal immunisation network to administer the vaccines. “India has both vaccine distribution expertise and capacity; we are better than other countries in these areas. We have a vast and experienced vaccination network and we will exploit it to the hilt.” On Tuesday, HT reported that India will use the cold storage facilities and 1.5 lakh vaccinators from this network.
The PM also announced that in the first leg (to be spread over first six months) priority in immunisation will be given to health care workers, frontline workers and senior citizens with co-morbidities as per the suggestions of the states. But he also added that current anti-Covid protocols, especially social distancing and masks, must be continued.
All leaders who spoke at the meeting supported the government’s efforts in containing the pandemic and offered help to tackle any misinformation. They suggested strengthening of cold chains in remote areas and taking states on board. Modi assured the leaders that he has kept state chief ministers on board and added that the Centre and states are working together in the area of vaccine distribution. He said that efforts are on to augment cold chain infrastructure, and that some new schemes and programmes have been launched to this end -- a reference to amendments to the CSR rules allowing companies to spend their CSR funds for vaccine development and distribution.
The Companies Act requires firms with a net worth of Rs 500 crore or more, or turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or more, or net profit of Rs 5 crore or more in the immediately preceding financial year, to mandatorily spend 2% of their average net profit of the preceding three years on CSR.
The PM lauded the Indian way of tackling the pandemic and said on several parameters such number of daily tests or death rates, India has fared better than advanced nations. India’s current case fatality rate is 1.4%, compared to the world’s 2.3%. “India’s fight against Covid reflects the ardent willpower of each Indian. We have fought better than many developed countries with advanced medical infrastructure. Our self-discipline, courage and resources have been incredible during this entire war. We have not thought only about our own people, but also helped other countries,” Modi said. But he also said that even as we are at the doorstep of vaccines, “the same people’s participation, the same scientific approach and coordination is needed”.
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