Covid vaccinations for those in the 50-plus age bracket could start between the second and fourth week of March, health minister Harsh Vardhan told parliament in response to a supplementary question on Friday.
“It is hard to give the exact date but it is our estimate that we can start vaccinations for the third stage - above 50 and those with comorbidities, by March,” he said.
The nationwide vaccination drive started on January 16 for almost 10 million health workers, now includes 20 million frontline workers as well. So far, nearly five million beneficiaries have received the first shot of either the two vaccines - Covishield or the Covaxin.
“The national expert group on vaccine will assess the situation from time to time and make a decision on making the vaccines available in the market. It will be conveyed to the public,” the health minister said.
Vardhan also told the Lok Sabha that 22 countries across the world have requested covid vaccine from India including Oman, Myanmar, UAE, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Algeria, Maldives, Morocco, Nepal, Pacific Islands, Seychelles, Mauritius among others.
He said that 15 countries have already received the vaccine from India either as a grant or as contracted assistance. “As on February 25.6 million doses have been given as grant and 10.5 million as contracted doses,” the minister informed the lower house.
A committee of experts is working on the details of the criteria to prioritise those with comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, HIV, cancer, cardiovascular or chronic disease.
Guidance for the next category of priority group which includes 270 million beneficiaries will be announced by the national expert group on vaccine administration as part of the next phase roll-out.
The budget has allocated Rs 35,000 crore towards vaccination against Covid with the assurance by the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman that this amount can be increased based on requirement.
For the initial phase of vaccination the funds have been provided by the PM Cares fund as well as contribution by the health ministry, Vardhan said.
Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan had said on Thursday that once the first two phases of vaccination stabilise the vaccinations for those in the 50 plus age bracket would start.
Vardhan said that seven vaccines were currently under development of which three were in the third phase and two in the second phase of clinical trials. The remaining two were in advance stage of the pre-clinical trials.