‘Govt to bear cost of vaccination’4 min read . Updated: 23 Dec 2020, 08:26 AM IST
- Not only will the mass immunization drive be done at govt’s expense, but will be carried out only after the regulator is satisfied about safety, say experts
The entire cost of India’s covid-19 vaccination programme will be borne by the government, said Dr Randeep Guleria, director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, on Monday. He was speaking at the Mint Budget 2021 live panel “Hope on the Horizon: How do we fund and distribute the covid-19 vaccine?"
Guleria, who is also on the central government’s committee on controlling covid-19, said the mass immunization drive “is going to be done at the government’s expense and it is already prepared for it".
He also indicated that a vaccine will be launched only after the drug regulator is satisfied about the safety and efficacy of vaccine candidates for covid-19. “We have had a lot of data in and regulators are not going to allow any vaccine to come to the market unless we know that it’s efficacious. Safety is paramount (for the government)," he added. According to him, it is very important for citizens to have faith in a vaccine, which is safe and efficacious. Only then, will the vaccines be rolled out for the mass immunization programme, he said.
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India has been exploring several covid-19 vaccine candidates, including Covishield, which was developed by Oxford University and pharma giant AstraZeneca, and Sputnik V developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute. While Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) is in the process of manufacturing Covishield, which is undergoing phase 3 clinical trials, Hyderabad-based pharma major Dr Reddy’s Laboratories has partnered with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to conduct clinical trials in India and, if approved, for its distribution across the country.
The government is also keeping a close eye on the results of the trials for Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech in association with the country’s apex biomedical research body, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), besides ZyCoV-D, Gujarat-based pharma giant Zydus Cadila Ltd’s vaccine candidate, which is in the second phase of clinical trials.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the government will ensure that covid-19 vaccines, whenever available, will reach each and every Indian as soon as possible. Modi also indicated that a vaccine will be available within a few weeks.
Gagan Singh, managing director, AstraZeneca India Pharma Ltd, said its parent company is on course to globally deliver 3 billion doses of the vaccine, with the help of Serum Institute, despite the recent discovery of a mutant coronavirus strain in the UK.
Indu Bhushan, chief executive officer, Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana and National Health Authority, said the Centre is in the process of finalizing the platform through which the covid-19 vaccines will be delivered.
When asked about the source of funding for the vaccination drive, Bhushan said the finance ministry is looking at it. He, however, added that health experts will take a decision on how best the funds can be used effectively. “Virus doesn’t know boundaries or rural and urban distinction. Vaccination has to be done all over the country and everyone has to be under the ambit of the vaccination plans and future plans," said Bhushan.
Gagandeep Kang, professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore, and board member of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said India is not likely to face any delay in covid-19 vaccines due to its large manufacturing capacity. However, there may be a worry that other low- and middle-income countries may face problems in getting enough vaccine shipments to inoculate their population, Kang added. “I’m worried about the other 91 countries in the COVAX facility, which have been promised doses for 20% of their populations. What about the remaining 80%? Where is the funding for those countries to buy the vaccine coming from? Only when we have a clear path to how that is going to be done, can we really think that we have got a process in place for global equity and access."
The COVAX facility, which is aimed at providing equitable access to covid vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, is led by CEPI, besides the World Health Organization (WHO) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. India is one of the 92 members eligible for financial support in procuring covid-19 vaccines.
“In India, vaccination in the initial stages is not likely to be a major concern," said professor K. Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India. “We do not have the experience of such a large-scale, adult vaccination programme. However, we must not look at this challenge as something that’s going to happen all at once. This vaccination is going to happen in stages to different groups of people who are going to be identified on the basis of essentiality and vulnerability."
According to the operational guidelines for covid-19 vaccination issued by the Union health ministry recently, the vaccine will be offered first to frontline workers, including healthcare professionals, people above 50 years, and those below 50 but with associated co-morbidities. Finally, the remaining population will be immunized based on the disease epidemiology and availability of vaccine.
According to the rules shared with state governments, the 50-year-plus priority group may be further segregated into 60-plus, and those who are 50-60 years, to ensure phase-wise vaccination based on the pandemic situation and the availability of vaccines.
Reddy said first the authorities should protect the people who are both essential and vulnerable, including healthcare professionals, and then focus on other categories of essential workers such as security personnel and municipal workers. Subsequently, the focus should be on vulnerable groups, either because of age, or associated health conditions, he said.
“This is something that can be rolled out with proper planning and precision. By the time we pass the first stage, we will have more vaccines available. It’s not just going to be one vaccine. We will have greater availability and choice. The supply chain expense and experience will be developed by then and will have greater opportunity to deliver the numbers, and possibly with a greater degree of equity across the country," Reddy said.