As a controversy raged over Bharatiya Janata Party's election manifesto promising free coronavirus vaccine for everyone in Bihar, government officials on Thursday said the vaccine, once ready, will be distributed under a special COVID-19 immunisation programme, with the Centre procuring it directly and making it available free-of-cost to all priority groups.
The Centre has started the process of identifying around 30 crore priority beneficiaries who will be given vaccine in the initial phase.
The Centre will procure the vaccine directly and make it available free-of-cost for the priority beneficiaries.
States have been asked not to chart separate pathways of procurement, the officials said.
The existing digital platform and processes used for the Universal Immunisation Programme are being enhanced to track COVID-19 vaccine administration and movement, from procurement to storage to distribution to individual beneficiaries, as and when the vaccine becomes available, the health ministry officials said.
Also, online training modules are being developed for vaccinators.
The government has chalked out four categories which include around one crore healthcare professionals, including doctors, MBBS students and nurses, around two crore frontline workers, including municipal corporation workers, ASHA workers and police personnel, about 26 crore people aged above 50 and those below 50 with co-morbidities.
"A final decision is yet to be taken in this regard," an official said.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday released the BJP's manifesto for the Bihar assembly polls which promised free COVID-19 vaccine once it has been cleared by the Indian Council of Medical Research.
Presently, under the UIP children, adolescents and pregnant women are vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases free of cost by the state.
The National Expert Committee on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 has already mapped the existing cold chain being utilised under the government's immunisation program and has also made a projection of the additionality that will be required, health ministry officials earlier had said.
Presently, that group is now engaged with mapping the private sector facilities that could serve the needs of supplementing the cold chain equipment.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has said that the Centre estimates to receive and utilise 40-50 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccine covering around 25 crore people by July next year.
Vardhan had said that the government is working round-the-clock to ensure that there is a fair and equitable distribution of vaccines, once they are ready.
The biggest benefit that India has is that it has a robust immunisation program in place and it is also implementing the largest immunisation program of the world, with nearly 27 million newborns targeted annually, the minister said.
"We have an established infrastructure for supply, storage and delivery of vaccines to the last mile, under our Universal Immunisation Program, where we are administering around 600 million doses to children every year.
"The strength of these experiences in the vaccination landscape, our best practices and the robustness of our health delivery system will be leveraged and augmented using a strong IT backbone, to ensure that this humongous national mission of vaccinating the identified priority groups with COVID-19 vaccine is achieved in a timely manner," Vardhan said.
He said the Indian government will leverage an integrated IT platform e-Vin (electronic Vaccine Intelligent Network) for managing vaccine distribution.
He assured that the government has accorded top most priority to research and manufacturing to ensure that the vaccine reaches the last person.