A COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be available by early next year and the government is considering its emergency authorisation for high-risk settings, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan Sunday said, asserting he will take the first dosage if there is any concern over its safety.
According to a health ministry statement, he said while no date has been fixed for the launch of a vaccine, it may be ready by the first quarter of 2021, and made available first to those who need it the most, irrespective of their paying capacity,
The minister made these remarks during interaction with his social media followers on the 'Sunday Samvad' platform.
He covered a multitude of queries concerning not only the current COVID-19 situation, but also the government's approach to it, the changes expected in the post COVID world and the steps taken by the Modi dispensation.
Vardhan stated the government is taking full precautions in human trials of vaccines and the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 under the chairmanship of Dr V K Paul, member-health, NITI Aayog, is drawing up a detailed strategy on how to immunize the majority of the population.
"Issues like vaccine security, cost, equity, cold-chain requirements, production timelines etc., are also been discussed intensely," he stated.
Further, he said the government is considering emergency authorisation of COVID-19 vaccination especially for senior citizens and people working in high-risk settings.
"This shall be done after a consensus has been reached," he was quoted as saying the statement.
To allay any fear regarding the safety aspect of vaccines, he said he would be happy to take the first dosage "if people have a trust deficit".
On vaccine candidates and their development in the country, he said India is actively partnering with Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and trials of several vaccines at different phases are underway at laboratories (private or public) and hospitals.
The Department of Biotechnology and the Indian Council of Medical Research have been proactive in responding to the emerging situation, he said.
It is hoped that a consensus will emerge in the next few months over the desired level of protective herd immunity in any community, he said.
The minister, however, also noted that a safe and effective vaccine will help in establishing immunity to COVID-19 at a much faster pace as compared to the natural infection, the statement said.
Vardhan highlighted how the pandemic became a turning point for Indian manufacturing.
“From the time when there were no indigenous manufacturers of PPEs with requisite standards, now there are nearly 110 indigenous manufacturers of PPE with requisite standards. The country is in a position to not only meet its own demands but also export to help out fellow nations”, Vardhan said.
Vardhan said the government has directed all states and UTs to fix a reasonable price for COVID-19 treatment in private hospitals for making it affordable for the common man.
Free coverage up to Rs 5 lakhs for COVID-19 patients for those who are eligible under the Ayushman Bharat PMJAY package was announced, the statement said.
He added that the Central government has also asked states and UTs to proactively engage with the private sector health providers and consider pooling in public and private healthcare facilities, as this will help in providing prompt, good quality and reasonable health care to COVID-19 patients.
He has himself appealed to the private hospitals to refrain from overcharging COVID patients, the statement stated.
The minister said measures have been taken to ensure accessibility and affordability of all drugs and other therapeutics to all, irrespective of their paying capacities.
The government has taken cognisance of reports of alleged black-marketing of drugs like Remdesivir and has asked the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) to take suitable action along with their state counterparts.
Vardhan stated the government is seized of the evolving nature of the infection and emerging evidence of the systemic health complications in those who have been infected.
AIIMS and other research institutions have been asked to undertake research to study the long-term impact of COVID-19, he stressed.
The ICMR is establishing a National Clinical Registry on COVID-19 that will provide insights into clinical course of COVID-19 disease, its spectrum and outcome of patients.
Expert group consultations are already going on to review the emerging evidence and generate own data on organ system specific (respiratory system, renal system, cardiovascular and gastro-intestinal) sequela of COVID-19, he stated.
On the recently-launched National Digital Health Mission, he said it is one of the most ambitious missions of the government and is set to catapult India as a global leader in the field of digital health.
"However, there are vested interests that do not want India to succeed and are spearheading a disinformation campaign against NDHM," he said.
He said it is an “utter lie” that those who do not become part of this system shall not be allowed to access hospitals.
“Those persons or institutions who are not a part of this system shall continue to enjoy access to the healthcare system in exactly the same manner as they are doing now. Participation in the digital health ecosystem shall be totally optional and shall never be made mandatory for individuals," he underscored.