The Centre is likely to begin the COVID-19 inoculation drive for people above the age of 50 years in the next few weeks, said Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday. He added that around 18 or 19 vaccine candidates are currently in different stages of clinical trials.
"About 18-19 vaccine candidates against COVID-19 are in the pipeline and are in preclinical, clinical and advanced stages," Vardhan said.
Addressing reporters on the COVID-19 situation in the country, the health minister said that an expert group will discuss "how to pay for the vaccination of people above 50 years of age", Livemint reported.
Vardhan also claimed that there had "not been a single vaccine-related death" so far. "If there's death after vaccination, it's being investigated. Even routine side effects have a negligible number. Relevant stakeholders working on post-COVID-19 symptoms," the report quoted Vardhan as saying.
He added that around 80 to 85 percent of the targeted healthcare and frontline workers had been inoculated against COVID-19 in the first phase of the vaccination drive. The first phase began on 16 January and aimed to inoculate around three crore healthcare and frontline workers across the country.
"During emergency use authorisations (EUA), it is the responsibility of the government to keep things under control and open market sales are not part of EUA," he added.
India has provided vaccine doses to around 25 countries, Vardhan said.
Providing details about India's current COVID-19 graph, the Union health minister said that no new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in 188 districts in the last seven days, while no new cases have been reported in 21 districts in 21 days.
He also sought to dispel rumours surrounding the vaccines by saying that vaccines in the public domain are "safe and effective".
"It is crucial that people continue to follow COVID appropriate behaviour which I call social vaccine, along with real vaccines," he added.
India has approved two vaccines " Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech, and Covishield from Oxford/AstraZeneca being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India " for emergency use in the country.
Vardhan also hailed the Union Budget 2021 and said that it provides for investments in "preventive and promotive health care".
"COVID-19 has strengthened the country's health potential. We turned a crisis into opportunity. From one lab, India has grown to 2,500 diagnostic labs, and genome sequencing, which is being talked about now, has been in Indian labs since May-June last year," he noted.
"Through this Budget, we have brought in the dream of 'Health for All'. Our holistic approach, ancient medical wisdom, other health facilities and systems collectively will be a model for the world," he added.
During the Budget Session of Parliament on 5 February, Vardhan told the Lok Sabha that around 27 crore people will be covered in the second phase of the inoculation drive. The groups included will be people above the age of 50 and people with co-morbidities.
"In coming days, 27 crore people who are of above 50 years of age and those under 50 with co-morbidities will be vaccinated," Vardhan said.
With inputs from PTI