A month into the vaccination drive, which has covered more than 8.5 million so far, the health ministry has indicated that Covid-19 vaccines are not likely to be there in the open market anytime soon.
This is because the government is not willing to take chances with technical protocols and the responsibility of a national vaccine roll-out.
“It is emergency use authorisation and during this time it is the responsibility of the government to keep things under control. That is why it cannot be brought in the open market yet ... If some wrong product comes to the market, then who would be responsible for it?” Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Monday.
The minister said 18-19 vaccines were in various stages of development with a few doing advance clinical trials.
With India likely to start vaccination in March for those above 50, the expert group on vaccines is in the process of finalising the details for this phase, including whether it would be gratis or come at a particular price.
“There is no clear-cut decision in this matter yet. The strategy for the next 270 million is being deliberated by the expert group,” the health minister told reporters.
On whether emergency use authorisation will be converted into regular market authorisation for the two vaccines, Vardhan said: “There will be an appropriate time for that as well ... All over the world vaccines are currently under emergency use.”
He said the prime minister had met the chief ministers of some states and sought their feedback on the matter. The government is bearing the cost of vaccination for 10 million health functionaries and 20 million front line workers.
The finance ministry had allocated Rs 35,000 crore for vaccination with the assurance that more would come as required.
Expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP has gone up from 1.5 per cent in 2019-20 to 1.8 per cent in 2020-21, the health ministry said.
The committee of experts is yet to finalise the details of vaccinating those with co-morbidities, such as the diseases that would be covered and given priority for the jab.
The health minister also said there had been no serious or severe adverse event or death because of the vaccine.
“The smallest of adverse events are being recorded. No death has been found attributable to the vaccine. Even the routine side-effects are negligible. I want to assure the people that vaccines in the public domain are safe and immunogenic,” the health ministry said.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) data, in 2020, besides Covid, 60 outbreaks were tackled around the world.
The Indian Council of Medical Research has investigated 1,240 regional outbreaks in the past six years.
“We have observed that many other infections dropped because of wearing the mask,” Vardhan said.
In the past 28 days there have been no new Covid cases in 76 districts, no fresh cases for the past two weeks in 34 districts, and no new cases for the past 21 days in 21 districts, according to the health ministry data.