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COVID vaccinations to start in January, will be tracked digitally at each step: Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan

"Vaccine hesitancy issues will be addressed through education. The government will spread awareness and educate people about the vaccine that this is for their own good and benefit," said the Health Minister.

On Sunday, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan talked to ANI about several issues related to coronavirus and India’s preparedness to eradicate the infection. He said that the union government has been working with the state governments for the past four months to prepare the nation at block level for the Covid-19 vaccination.

India has experience with mass immunization programs

The Health Minister talked about India’s experience in mass immunization programs, including the campaign to get India polio-free. He said, “As far as the country’s ability is concerned, I would like to remind that around 25 years ago, India had 60% of polio-affected children in the world. We started giving vaccines to children below the age of five years on a single day. I got support from people. We first did it in Delhi, which was followed by other parts of the country. Many Southeast Asian nations followed the country’s model. We gave vaccines to children for two decades and the result was that in 2014, India came in the WHO category of polio-free nations.”

He further added that India also carried out a universal immunization program to give 12 types of vaccines to children. India is prepared, and there is no shortcoming in the country’s abilities. “We have involved the state governments, made a task force at the state level, district, and block levels too. We have provided training to master trainers in the country and also at the state level we have provided training. We have given training in 260 districts to more than 20,000 people,” he added.

Vaccine delivery to be monitored by a digital platform

In the ANI interview, the minister also talked about the Co-WIN digital platform that will help in monitoring Covid-19 vaccine delivery in real-time. He said, “Co-Win has been developed as a platform where the vaccine will be tracked along with its temperature. It will also track the potential beneficiary up to the point till that person gets a second dose and he generates his certificate.”

There are 28,000 to 29,000 cold chain points in the country. He said that the union government has worked on several state governments, including vaccine carriers for cold chains, deep freezers, mobile vans and refrigerators. The governments have worked collectively to decide how many teams will be required at the vaccination centre and how many volunteers will be required to help these teams, along with the norms that these centers have to follow.

The vaccination program may start in January

The minister said that India might begin the vaccination program in January. The first priority of the government is to ensure the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Dr Harsh Vardhan said that it is not possible to force the vaccine on anyone. However, the government will provide education and information to people about it. He said, “Vaccine hesitancy issues will be addressed through education. The government will spread awareness and educate people about the vaccine that this is for their own good and benefit.”

Prioritization is based on international trends and guidelines of WHO

The minister said that the government has prioritized who will get the vaccine first based on the international trends and the World Health Organization’s guidelines. Though the government wants to reach a point where everyone is vaccinated, there is a limited number of vaccines. It is important to decide who will get the vaccine first. “Before taking a decision, the government consulted experts, those in the ministries, people in the state governments, and those involved in making vaccines. These decisions have been made while observing international trends and WHO guidelines,” the minister added.

The first to get the vaccine will be health workers and the elderly

The minister said that the government has prioritized 30-crore people to get the vaccine first. The first one crore people to get vaccinated will be health workers in the public and private sector. The next two crores will be frontline workers, sanitation staff, police, and other frontline workers, along with people above the age of 50. He said that majority of the people who lost their lives due to the infection are above 50 years of age. There are around 26 crores such people. Among them, those who have health problems like BP, heart and kidney diseases need to vaccinate on priority.

He further said that no one would be forced to take the vaccine. “The government will reach out to people to get their vaccines but if someone does not want to take the vaccine, they cannot be forced,” he said.

Regulators are examining the permissions sought by pharmaceuticals firms

The minister said that the regulators are examining the permission sought by pharmaceutical firm Pfizer for the emergency authorization of the Covid-19 vaccine. “If a politician speaks on the matter which is in the jurisdiction of experts, it will not be appropriate…perhaps they did not take part in the meeting,” he said. Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech have been asked to submit more safety and efficacy data by The Subject Expert Committee (SEC) of Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) earlier this month.

The focus is on developing our own vaccine

The minister said that India is not behind when it comes to developing and researching vaccines against Covid-19. “Our country is moving towards self-reliance and we are not behind any other country in the world in vaccine development and research,” he said. India has the capacity to mass-produce the vaccine, just like anyone in the world.

The worse is over, but people need to be cautious

The minister said that in his views, the worst is over concerning Covid-19 in India. However, people need to follow the precautions to stay safe. “At a personal level, I think that the worst is over concerning the Covid-19 situation. I have been following this situation right from the time when we had our first case on January 30, 2020. Since then, I have watched everything from the closest of quarters with meticulous precision. If we look at the things in the last three-four months then things are in a declining phase,” he said.

3 lakh active cases with 95-96% recovery rate

As of now, there are just over 3 lakh active cases in India. The recovery rate is 95 to 96%, which is notably higher than in many developed countries. A few months ago, there were 10 lakh active cases. Out of close to one crore cases, 95 lakh have already recovered. India is better placed compared to the USA, Russia and Brazil. “Our fatality rate is also significantly low at 1.45% now. I feel the worse may probably be over but with a note of caution,” he added.

Masks, hygiene and physical distancing are the major tools

Vardhan said that major tools against infection are masks, hand hygiene and physical distancing that people need to follow. People have to follow precautions to stay safe. Soon, the vaccine will be in the market, and the government will ensure that it reaches everyone who is willing to get the vaccine.

Current situation of Covid-19 in India

According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,  India has reported 1,00,31,223 cases. There are 3,05,344 active cases while 9,580,402 have recovered and 1,45,477 have lost their lives.

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