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Health minister Harsh Vardhan. (PTI)
Health minister Harsh Vardhan. (PTI)

Covid vaccine may be available by start of 2021: Harsh Vardhan

  • The minister said in Rajya Sabha that the mortality rate in India at 1.64% is the lowest in the world and the government is targeting to bring it down to less than 1%

NEW DELHI: As India's covid-19 cases surged to 51,23,785, health minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said a vaccine may be available by the start of 2021, but it would still take some time to reach every citizen.

During a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on covid-19 situation in the country, the minister said, “We hope that we will get a covid-19 vaccine by the beginning of the next year. We are also coordinating with World Health Organization (WHO) and other bodies. India is among the few countries that have managed to isolate the virus. There are around 40,000 samples that are being studied."

The discussion on covid-19 continued in the House on Thursday after a heated debate on Wednesday. Members of Parliament raised several questions regarding lockdown and availability and affordability of the vaccine. Congress leaders on Wednesday tried to corner the Narendra Modi-led NDA government over handling of the pandemic in India.

Defending the Centre’s stand, Harsh Vardhan said even before the government could find the first case of covid-19 in India, it had started taking appropriate steps to counter the disease.

The government had discussed the matter with expert groups on 8 January and 17 January onwards efforts had been initiated to fight the disease and advisories issued from time to time, Harsh Vardhan said. The first case was reported on 20 January.

“The number of cases as well as deaths in the US and Brazil is much higher in comparison to India. India’s recovery rate has also risen. Only America carried out more tests than us," he said.

Harsh Vardhan said the mortality rate in India at 1.64% is the lowest in the world and the government is targeting to bring it down to less than 1%. Even though the number of cases may have crossed 50 million, the number of active cases is less than 20%.

He said that clinical trials were being conducted for the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine and vaccine candidates have reached phases I, II and III.

“We have to break the chain of transmission. The transmission is taking place because of our carelessness. We need to follow hygiene protocols, continue distancing and wear masks," the health minister said.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, also a former health minister, said India should be well placed to get the vaccine at an "affordable price" and at an "early stage" through a mechanism like pooled procurement. The government should also be extra cautious about the quality, safety and efficacy of a new vaccine, he said.

The former health minister said the government had lost "golden months" to stop the spread of the disease despite a warning from WHO about a 'mysterious pneumonia' spreading in China.

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said Maharashtra is yet to get 25,000 crore from the Centre that is need to fight covid-19. Raut also alleged the Centre had stopped supplies of medical equipment like PPE kits and masks from 1 September. This had put an additional burden of 350 crore on the state, he claimed.

Harsh Vardhan said there was no shortage of PPE kits, testing kits and masks and there is no discrimination against any state.

The number of covid-19 cases continues to rise in the country with Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu comprising close to 60% of the active cases. Around 70% of total active cases are in nine most-affected states/UTs, according to the health ministry. In the last 24 hours, 90,123 new cases have been reported in the country.

With more than 20,000 new cases in the last 24 hours, Maharashtra is leading the tally, followed by Andhra Pradesh at 8846 and Karnataka at 7576, the government said.

Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Amit Shah was discharged from Delhi's All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) hospital on Thursday.

He was dishcarged after, four days he was re-admitted for a full check-up after recovering from covid-19. He was tested positive for covid in August and was admitted to AIIMS and later to Medanta for treatment after post covid-19 complications such as fatigue. Sourced said that he may attend parliament on Monday.

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