Reuters/IANS New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday warned that any Covid-19 vaccine could lead to side-effects in some people, as even popular medicines do, and that the government would only go by science in finalising one for the country.
The comments came ahead of the possible launch of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by early next year in India, the country with the world’s second-highest number of coronavirus infections after the US.
The question of who pays any claims for damages for unexpected side-effects has been a tricky point in supply negotiations between countries and drug makers over potential vaccines.
Some richer countries have agreed full or partial exemptions from liability for firms to secure shots.
Indian officials have not commented on who would be held responsible if any vaccine led to serious unwanted consequences.
Brazil has said it will not exempt vaccine makers from liability, but Mexico could share some of the burden with laboratories.
Modi said both speed and safety were equally important in launching a vaccine, but that, once established scientific processes had determined the right path, India would follow it.
“Even medicines popular for 20 years and used by hundreds of thousands of people lead to reactions in some, even today,” Modi said in a video conference with state chief ministers.
“It’s possible with vaccines too. Any decision on them should only be weighed on a scientific scale.
“Whatever vaccine makes it through the world’s certified processes, we will have to accept them and move ahead.”
Modi said it was not yet known which vaccine would be launched in India and at what price, but urged states to work with the federal government to keep distribution infrastructure such as cold storages ready.
After the AstraZeneca vaccine’s third-stage trial results were revealed on Monday, its Indian manufacturer the Serum Institute of India said it would first focus on supplying its home market in the next few months.
The other experimental vaccines on trial in the country are the government and Bharat Biotch’s COVAXIN; Russia’s Sputnik-V; Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D and lastly one that Biological E is developing with Baylor College of Medicine and Dynavax Technologies.
India yesterday recorded 37,975 new infections, taking the total to 9.18mn. Deaths rose by 480, with the total now at 134,218.
The prime minister disclosed that health and frontline workers will get priority when it comes to getting the vaccine when it arrives. He also expressed his displeasure over the politics being played over the issue.
Modi stressed it was the “duty” of the nation to vaccinate frontline workers first. He added the vaccine distribution system must be transparent and thus allay the fears of many Indians.
The premier is learnt to have said that the priority list will be created in three phases where health workers pressed into Covid duty will be the first to get the vaccine followed by police personnel, sanitation workers and the elderly population. And then, the PM is believed to have articulated, the vaccines will go to those with co-morbidities. The idea behind this is to ensure those who actually are in most dire need of the vaccine, get it first.
Meanwhile, the Centre has already sought a list for all states and union territories of frontline workers – doctors, nurses, medical assistants among others – in their respective areas.
He has asked states to start working on cold storage facilities for the vaccine.
“I urge all the states to send their detailed plans soon on how they plan to take vaccines to the lowest levels. It will help us make informed decisions as your experiences are valuable,” said the prime minister, while pitching for greater federal co-operation.
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is known to be a vocal critic of the government, who raised the issue of GST dues that the Centre owes in the first leg of the meeting, expressed willingness to co-operate with regard to the vaccination distribution system. Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy said a task force has been formed by the state government.
The prime minister warned against carelessness that caused a recent spike in many states. He reiterated that caution needs to be at its best, till the vaccines are here, rolled out and administered. He added that the government is making efforts to make oxygen and ventilators “two key demands” in the fight against the pandemic available. In this direction, efforts are afoot to establish a slew of oxygen generation plants.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray urged the Centre to formulate a ‘national vaccine distribution policy’ to combat the Covid-19 pandemic more systematically.
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