Sharmili Mallick

New Delhi: As India gears up to launch the world's largest immunisation drive against coronavirus and began the dry run for the vaccination across several states and union territories, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Saturday that the vaccine will be provided free of cost across the country.

"Not just in Delhi, it will be free across the country," Vardhan said when asked for the government's position on the issue after reviewing the dry run at a government hospital in New Delhi.

The comment is significant, given the fact that India has recorded the second highest numbers of corona infections after the United States.

Notably, the coronavirus vaccine is slated to be rolled out soon as the one developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca has been recommended by an expert panel, tasked with vetting Covid-19 vaccine proposals, and forwarded to the Drug Controller General of India for approval.

"The Drug Controller General of India will soon give its recommendation on the applications," Vardhan said. According to top government sources, the vaccination process will begin from January 6.

The central government plans to vaccinate nearly 30 crore persons in the first phase of the immunisation drive. The vaccine will be administered to one crore healthcare workers, along with 2 crore frontline and essential workers, and 27 crore elderly, mostly above the age of 50 with comorbidities.

On Saturday, authorities were conducting a mega drill at 259 sites in all states and union territories to help officials practise how to manage vaccine supply, storage and logistics, including cold chain management.

(Inputs from IANS)