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The choice of vaccine to be administered remains with the government, even as covid-19 vaccination remains voluntary in India, the Union government said on Tuesday.

The two vaccines available as India gears up to begin its covid-19 vaccination drive on 16 January are Pune-based Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International Ltd’s Covaxin.

“Two covid-19 vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin, have received emergency use authorization (EUA), both having established safety and immunogenicity. Across the world, there have been more than two covid-19 vaccines being used but so far, no country in the world has let the beneficiaries choose which vaccine they want to take," Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said, indicating that the government will decide which vaccine will be given to which beneficiary.

India will have more vaccines available in the coming months, Bhushan said. “Vaccine candidates such as Zydus Cadila, Sputnik V, Biological E, and Gennova are in the pipeline. In the coming months, all of these four or some among these have possibilities of being taken up by the national regulator for consideration of EUA," Bhushan said.

Preparations are on track for the rollout of covid-19 vaccines with 26 virtual meetings/trainings held so far with states and Union territories, the government said. “Different categories of professionals will be required for discharge of different responsibilities. For that purpose, 2,360 master trainers, 61,000 programme managers, 2 lakh vaccinators, and 3.7 lakh other vaccination team members have been trained so far," Bhushan said.

“In the sequential rollout of vaccines, approximately 27 crore prioritized age groups, consisting of those aged above 50 years and the people aged less than 50 years having comorbidities will be given vaccine after the first two phase of vaccination of approximately 1 crore healthcare workers in public and private sectors, followed by approximately 2 crore frontline workers," he said.

There is a gap of 28 days between two doses of both vaccines and effectiveness begins 14 days after the second dose.

Information, education and communication material will be displayed at the vaccination sites in regional languages, which will be provided by the states. These will highlight three key messages, including the imperative to follow covid-appropriate behaviour even after vaccination. They will also inform that the vaccination is safe and there should not be any hesitancy about getting vaccinated and also tell people about the IDs that may be used while getting vaccinated at a session site, much on the lines of establishing identity during an election.

The government said there are five key principles for the covid-19 vaccination exercise, which may last beyond a year. These are people’s participation, utilization of experiences from elections at the booth-level and from universal immunization programmes, no compromise of existing healthcare services, no compromise on scientific and regulatory norms and other standard operation procedures, and an orderly and smooth implementation driven by technology.

The Centre has urged states to have all logistics ready and ensure continuous oversight and personal involvement at the highest level in the entire process. It has asked states to take special care of the communication activities and utilization of all channels to create an encouraging environment.

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