The third phase of COVID-19 vaccination is likely to commence in March, and will cover 27 crore people aged 50 and above and those with co-morbidities, the government said on Friday.
The vaccination drive began on 16 January, starting with healthcare workers and then the frontline workers, both estimated to be around 3 crore.
"In coming days, 27 crore people aged 50 and above and those under 50 with co-morbidities will be vaccinated," Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in the Lok Sabha while replying to questions on vaccines and the vaccination drive against during the Question Hour on Friday.
"After the completion of the first and second phases, the third phase could be launched anytime next month," Vardhan said.
"It is not possible to give an exact date, but we estimate that this process can start in the second, third, or the fourth week of March."
Vardhan added that the finance minister has allocated Rs 35,000 crore for vaccination in the Budget and assured that it can be increased if required.
He said two vaccines—Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute, and Covaxin of Bharat Biotech—have been approved for emergency use authorisation. Besides these, work is in progress on seven vaccines. Of the seven, three are in Phase 3 clinical trial stage. Two are in Phases 1 and 2 clinical trial stage, and the remaining two are in advanced pre-clinical stage.
The Union Health Ministry has said that nearly 53 lakh beneficiaries have been administered shots under the countrywide inoculation exercise till Friday evening.
India has become the first country in the world to reach the 5 million COVID-19 vaccination mark in just 21 days.
The cumulative number of healthcare workers vaccinated is nearly 53 lakh. A total of 52,90,474 beneficiaries were vaccinated through 1,04,781 sessions, as per the provisional report comprising data collected till Friday 6 pm.
The ministry said total 22 deaths have been recorded till date, though none has been causally linked to COVID-19 vaccination.
"One new death was reported in the past 24 hours, of a 77-year-old male in Agra, seven days after vaccination. It was a case of shock with pre-existing diabetes. None of these deaths have been causally linked to COVID-19 vaccination," the ministry said.
The total 3,31,029 beneficiaries who were vaccinated on Friday 6 pm include 29,229 from Bihar, 12,992 from Kerala, 23,291 from Karnataka, 1,104 from Madhya Pradesh, 35,172 from Maharashtra, 6,258 from Tamil Nadu, 8,038 from Delhi, 27,862 from Gujarat, 53,959 from Uttar Pradesh, and 17,329 from West Bengal, according to the report.