New Delhi: Amid surge in coronavirus cases, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan said that the Central government is planning to widen the umbrella of vaccine beneficiaries soon to cover other sections of the population.
While addressing 'Reshape Tomorrow Summit' organised by The Economic Times on Friday, he also spoke about the vaccination drive currently underway, India's investment in the "Test, Track and Treat" strategy and Make in India vaccine.
So far, 5.81 crore doses of corona vaccine have been administered in the country since the drive began on January 16 after approval for 'Covishield' and 'Covaxin'.
"Just a few days back, the government announced that from April 1, all citizens aged 45 years and above, whether having any comorbidity or not, will be eligible to get vaccinated across India. The government is already planning to widen the umbrella of Covid-19 vaccine beneficiaries soon to cover other sections of our population," Vardhan said.
The Union Minister informed the audience on India's tryst with Covid-19 vaccination: "On January 16, 2021, India started its national vaccination programme against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This day of the programme witnessed the vaccination of the highest number of beneficiaries covered anywhere in the world on the first day."
"Back then, our first and foremost priority was to use the Covid-19 vaccine as a shield to protect our healthcare workers and frontline workers. Within the first 34 days, we touched one crore vaccination, and in the subsequent weeks, we have opened the vaccination to other priority groups."
"Throughout this vaccination drive, the government's focus was on keeping the services as citizen friendly as possible. Since March 1, 2021, private health facilities have been permitted to function as Covid-19 Vaccination Centers while being allowed to charge a maximum amount of Rs 250/- for the same," he added.
"To speed up the pace of vaccination, the government has lifted the time restriction. People can now get vaccinated 24x7 according to their convenience across India,' the Union Health Minister said.
Applauding the collaborative approach followed by India used for planning and execution of the vaccination drive, he propounded the exercise as an excellent example of how the federal system can work in synergy to maximize the reach of a programme.
He added that the vaccination drive is being coordinated as a 'Jan Bhagidari Aandolan' involving many stakeholders like ministries, departments, professional bodies, medical colleges, NGOs, CSOs, media houses, private sector, youth & women volunteer groups.
Reminding of the turmoil faced by the world in the last year and how it resulted in India's stronger, wiser, more united and resilient emergence, Harsh Vardhan said, "Just last January, research started with a previously unknown virus and we now have not just one, but several vaccines that will be administered to millions of people before year-end with several other types of Covid-19 vaccines also on the way."
He noted that although both vaccines are being manufactured in India, Covaxin by Bharat Biotech has been developed in India under the ambit of "Atmanirbhar Bharat" showcasing our remarkable scientific acumen and vaccine development capability to the world. "People have embraced our 'Made in India' vaccines, and it is due to this enthusiasm & trust, we crossed our last one crore vaccinations in just under four days," he added.
Harsh Vardhan detailed India's investment in the "Test, Track and Treat" strategy along with its fruitful Behavioural Change campaign as the bedrock of India's highest recovery rate and miniscule fatality rate.
He praised Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's decision to allocate Rs 35,000 crore for the Covid-19 vaccination drive in 2021-22 budget. He also shared the wisdom behind the designing of the priority cascade of different groups of beneficiaries proposed by National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) and National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC).