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Funds won't be a constraint for coronavirus vaccination: Expenditure secretary

Expenditure secretary T.V. SomanathanPremium
Expenditure secretary T.V. Somanathan

  • 'We are not a banana republic. We can afford to pay for the vaccine. We will find the money, we will somehow manage,' says T.V. Somanathan
  • Serum CEO in September stirred a controversy by claiming that the govt may need 80,000 crore over the next one year for distribution of Covid-19 vaccine to every person in India

New Delhi: Budgetary resources will not be a constraint in vaccinating the needy for the coronavirus disease, expenditure secretary T.V. Somanathan told Mint in an interview on Tuesday, as government plans to vaccinate 20-25 crore Indians by July next year.

“Finance ministry will ensure that availability of resources is not a reason for non-vaccination. Once proven vaccines are available, we will definitely make resources available; that is our responsibility and it will be done," Somanathan said.

Serum Institute of India chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla in September stirred a controversy by claiming that the government may need 80,000 crore over the next one year for distribution of Covid-19 vaccine to every person in India, calling it a "concerning challenge". However, health secretary Ajay Bhushan later disagreed with that high estimate.

“I have seen reports saying ‘Oh, how the government will fund it!’ We are not a banana republic. We can afford to pay for the vaccine. We will find the money, we will somehow manage," Somanathan said, without revealing how much exactly government may spend on vaccination.

Asked whether the vaccination will be free of cost for all citizens, Somanathan said he didn’t mean that. “Those matters health ministry will decide and strictly I am not commenting on that. What I am saying is there won’t be any budgetary stringency affecting vaccination. I am not necessarily saying it will be free. Whether people who can afford should pay or not is a separate issue. Certainly those who need vaccine and cannot (pay), government will ensure that they get it. Sometimes when you don’t charge, it is abused. It is diverted to commercial market. So we have to be careful," he added.

To counter vaccine nationalism and reduce price of covid-19 vaccines, India along with South Africa has approached the World Trade Organisation seeking waiver of patent conditionalities on coronavirus related medicines. The matter is likely to be discussed later this week.

Harsh Vardhan on Tuesday said India will have a vaccine for novel coronavirus from more than one source by early next year. “We're expecting that early next year we should have vaccine in the country from maybe more than one source. Our expert groups are formulating strategies to plan on how to roll out the distribution of the vaccine in the country," News agency ANI tweeted quoting the minister.

Earlier this month, Harsh Vardhan had said the government plans to administer around 40-50 crore Covid-19 vaccines to 20-25 crore Indians by July adding that the Centre, along with states, is also preparing a list of priority population groups, especially frontline health workers, who would receive immunisation shots.

Covid-19 vaccines currently undergoing trial in India are 2 dose and 3 dose vaccines. Vaccine by Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech require 2 doses while the Cadila Healthcare vaccine requires 3 doses. For other vaccines in pre-clinical stages, the dosing is being tested.

Currently, two indigenously-developed vaccine candidates, one by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR and the other by Zydus Cadila Ltd, are in phase 2 of the human clinical trials.

Pune-based Serum Institute of India, which has partnered with AstraZeneca for manufacturing the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine candidate also, is conducting phase 2 and 3 human clinical trials of the candidate in India.

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