Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday told leaders of all parties that experts had said vaccines against Covid-19 would be ready in the next few weeks, and that they would be manufactured on a large scale in the country. The inoculation will begin as soon as scientists give the go-ahead, the PM said.
Opposition leaders, particularly Sharad Pawar of NCP, demanded that the vaccine should be distributed free. With all parties suggesting that the vaccine should be at least priced nominally, Modi said that the Centre was in talks with state governments, and that the larger public health would be the priority when the price is decided.
Modi, who last week reviewed the progress at India’s top vaccine hubs, informed the meeting that eight potential vaccines, including three Indian candidates, were at different stages of trials in the country.
“Experts expect that the vaccine will be ready within the next few weeks. India’s vaccination drive will begin as soon as we get a go-ahead from scientists. The Centre is working on the basis of suggestions from state governments about who will be inoculated in the first phase of the vaccination drive,” Modi said.
Focus on roadmap
The first shots will be received by healthcare and frontline workers, but not many more details are available – even though the PM has said that India would be ready to roll out the vaccination programme as soon as scientists give the go-ahead.
He said healthcare workers involved in treating Covid-19 patients, frontline workers, and the elderly who were suffering from serious conditions, would get priority in vaccination. The meeting, which was convened by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, was attended by the floor leaders of all parties in both Houses of Parliament.
“The world is looking out for the cheapest and safest vaccine,” Modi said. “Because of this, it is natural that the world is watching India. I have visited vaccine hubs in Ahmedabad, Pune, and Hyderabad and witnessed the ongoing preparation for manufacturing the vaccine.”
Sources said the government was confident of being able to start distributing the vaccines in some weeks, even though it did not put forward a specific timeline. The meeting — the second of its kind convened by the government — was held in a “cordial atmosphere and went off on a positive note”, a top source said.
A senior Opposition leader told The Indian Express that a detailed presentation made by the Health Secretary was “fine”, but it contained a few “ifs and buts”. “For instance, the presentation said ‘whoever needs to be vaccinated, will be vaccinated’. This was ambiguous. Who will decide who needs to be vaccinated? Vaccination is generally universal,” the leader said.
Several regional leaders demanded that the Centre should provide states with the financial support needed for the vaccination programme. Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said: “We hoped and expected that the government would tell us details about the vaccination plan. But the government merely said health workers and frontline workers would be given priority. We agree that should be done…that is necessary…but what about the 130 crore Indians? No roadmap was presented.”
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke about the need to develop infrastructure to store vaccines at sub-zero temperatures. Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party said 2.5 per cent of the GDP must be allocated to the health sector.
In a three-page note given to the government, the CPM’s Elamaram Kareem underlined the massive economic costs of the pandemic, and the ways in which it had destroyed lives and livelihoods, and pushed crores of people into poverty, hunger and deprivation.
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