New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi Monday announced that the Covid-19 vaccine will be free for the first 3 crore priority recipients, adding that elected representatives are not among the priority groups.
Modi made the statement in an address to chief ministers following an interaction with them on the Covid vaccination drive, which is set to start from 16 January.
“The first 3 crore people in the first two rounds are in-house people. We have to create awareness, but maximum awareness is required after these two rounds. My personal suggestion is that… first are corona warriors and second frontline workers. We elected representatives do not come in this category,” he said, referring to demands from some states to include elected representatives — from panchayat members to MPs — among frontline workers.
The vaccines will be free for the aforementioned categories of recipients, Modi added, not elaborating on the plan for the others.
The government has so far identified four priority groups for Covid vaccination. The first two are healthcare providers and workers in healthcare settings both government & private (numbering around 1 crore, by government estimates), and frontline workers (around 2 crore), including personnel from state and central police departments, armed forces, home guard and civil defence organisation, besides municipal workers (excluding healthcare workers).
The other two are those aged over 50 years, and younger people with comorbidities. Together, these four groups comprise an estimated 30 crore people.
The vaccination drive in India, Modi said, is significant since several other countries “are going to follow us”.
“Vaccination for Covid-19 has been going on in about 50 countries since past 3-4 weeks, and till now, only about 2.5 crore people have received vaccination. India aims to achieve vaccination for 30 crore people in the next few months,” he added.
Modi dwelt at great length on the fact that the two vaccines that have been given approval for use in the country — Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield — are both Made in India.
While Covaxin is indigenous, Covishield is an international effort manufactured in India by the Serum Institute of India.
By the time the next two priority groups of people are vaccinated, Modi said, the country will have some more options in its basket. “This is why I say that we should meet again once 60-70 per cent of the vaccinations are done,” Modi said.
He also sought to address criticism of India’s vaccination clearance process, saying the country has stuck to its resolve of only going by the opinion of the scientific community.
“Both our vaccines are more cost-effective than other vaccines in the world. If India was to depend on foreign vaccines, it would have been very difficult for us. These vaccines have been manufactured with Indian realities in mind,” he said.
“India’s vaccination experience will be very important for this programme. The priority groups have been decided in consultation with states… Health workers, government or private, will be the first, followed by safai karamcharis, armed forces, civil defence etc… it has been decided that for the first 3 crore people, the government of India will fund the vaccines, states do not need to. Later on, we come to people aged above 50 years and those with comorbidities,” Modi said.
Many states have announced free vaccines for all
West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are among the states that have already announced free vaccines for all. All three states elect a new government later this year. Chhattisgarh has announced that it will not use Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin before the full efficacy data is available.
Modi highlighted the importance of countering vaccine-related misinformation and mentioned “corporate rivalry” as one of the reasons why such attempts may be made.
He urged states to talk to various social organisations such as Rotary and engage with community leaders to ensure such false information is not allowed to spread.
He wound up his address by talking about the bird flu outbreak in nine states, adding that standard operating procedure (SoP) has been formed to deal with it. He emphasised the need for coordination among various departments.