Enough stockpile of COVID-19 vaccine for inoculation of priority groups in first phase: V.K. Paul

Niti Aayog member V.K. Paul noted that “three to four months from now, there will be other vaccines and the stockpile will be even bigger”.

India has enough stockpile of the COVID-19 vaccine for inoculation of priority groups, including healthcare workers and frontline workers, in the first phase, Niti Aayog member V.K. Paul said on Janaury 4.

Also read: Coronavirus | COVID-19 vaccination preparations done, rollout in near future: NITI Aayog member V.K. Paul

Mr. Paul, who is also the Chairman of National Expert Group On Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) further said the government will soon announce its plans for purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine.

“Our first phase [of vaccination] comprises priority groups with high risk of mortality and our healthcare and frontline workers. For them, we believe, we have enough [COVID-19 vaccine] stockpile,” he told PTI in an interview.

India’s drug regulator DCGI on January 3 approved the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute, and indigenously developed Covaxin of Bharat Biotech for restricted emergency use in the country, paving the way for a massive inoculation drive.

Mr. Paul noted that “three to four months from now, there will be other vaccines and the stockpile will be even bigger”. “And more acceleration can be brought about in the vaccination programme,” Mr. Paul added.

Also read: Drug Controller General approves Covishield and Covaxin in India for ‘emergency use’

Asked when the government will announce its plans for purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine, he said, “This will follow. Now the essential has taken place, all these steps will be taken.” Asked what would be the single biggest challenge in mass vaccination for COVID-19, Mr. Paul noted that the biggest challenge encompasses the huge mobilisation that is required for such an effort.

“Well, the single most important challenge for mass vaccination on such a scale is mobilising beneficiaries on the appointed day and to conduct sessions in smooth, systemic protocols, ensuring COVID-19 appropriate precautions, I think is the single biggest challenge,” he observed.

According to Mr. Paul, the purpose of vaccination is a staggered ambition and can be seen as hierarchical.

“Ultimately, we would like vaccination to stop, stall and extinguish the pandemic, that is the ultimate purpose,” he said adding that for that to be achieved, a herd immunity of about 70% has to be created either through vaccination or by adding those people who have undergone natural infection.

Also read: COVID-19 vaccine sceptics playing into hands of vested interests: Nadda

Mr. Paul pointed out that for normal life to go on, there should be enough vaccinated people, so that the country’s industry, schools, transportation, judicial system and Parliamentary activity go on.

“Even though the virus may be there, the pandemic may not have finished but enough of economic and social life could go on,” he emphasised.

Replying to a question that India does not have experience in adult vaccination, the Niti Aayog member noted that countries face new challenges and then they respond on the basis of their intrinsic capability.

“We have tremendous experience of running immunisation programmes. We have experience of running affairs like national elections which happen over a short period of time across the country,” he said.

Also read: Congress leaders raise concern over grant of permission for restricted use of COVID-19 vaccine

“So those experiences and those SOP will come handy and build on that India’s ingenuity, India’s innovation and India’s experience will make it possible for us to mount a successful vaccination programme, even though it is unprecedented,” he added.

Referring to the Health Ministry’s recently issued ‘COVID-19 Vaccine Operational Guidelines’, Mr. Paul said, “God forbid, if you have any comorbidity, then you will get a vaccine in the first phase of the vaccination programme. Otherwise, you will get after these high priority groups have been covered.”

The approval by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) was given on the basis of recommendations submitted by a COVID-19 subject expert committee (SEC) of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO).

“After adequate examination, CDSCO has decided to accept the recommendations of the Expert Committee and accordingly, vaccines of M/s Serum and M/s Bharat Biotech are being approved for restricted use in emergency situations,” DCGI Dr. V.G. Somani had said.

This paves the way for the rollout of at least two vaccines in India in the coming days.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has tied up with AstraZeneca to manufacture Covishield.

Covaxin has been indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Also, the authority granted Cadila Healthcare the permission to conduct the phase 3 clinical trial of its vaccine candidate in India, Mr. Somani had said.

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