Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan
File Photo

The coronavirus vaccine cannot be forced upon anyone but the government will educate and give the right information to people about it, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Sunday.

"Vaccine hesitancy issues will be addressed through education. The government will spread awareness and educate people about the vaccine that this is for their own good and benefit," Harsh Vardhan said in an interview with ANI.

"The government will reach out to people to get their vaccines but if someone does not want to take the vaccine, they cannot be forced," he added.

Healthcare workers to be vaccinated first

He also said that the government had prioritised who will get the vaccines after observing international trends and keeping in mind the guidelines of the World Health Organisation.

"The ideal time would be when we reach a point where everyone can be vaccinated. But if there is a limited number of vaccines, it is important to prioritise how who will be the first to get it. Before taking a decision, the government consulted experts, those in the ministries, people in the state governments, and those involved in making vaccines. These decisions have been made while observing international trends and WHO guidelines," the Union Minister said.

He said the first one crore people to be vaccinated will be the health workers in the private and public sector, while the next two crores to be vaccinated will be frontline workers, sanitation staff, police, and other frontline workers, followed by people over the age of 50.

"Over 80 percent of the people who died due to Covid-19 have been over 50 years. There are about 26 crore people in this category. After that, people below 50 with health issues like BP, heart and kidney problems will be vaccinated," he said.

Vaccination to start in January

The Health Minister said that India may begin vaccinating people for Covid-19 by January, with the first priority being the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

"I personally feel that maybe in January in any stage or any week, there can be a time when are in a position to give the first Covid vaccine shot to people of India," Dr Vardhan told ANI.

On Saturday, the minister had said that the country's scientists and health experts have worked on the development of an indigenous vaccine and in the upcoming six to seven months India will have the capacity to inoculate about 30 crore people.

Centre preparing with states for past four months

Minister Harsh Vardhan has said that the government has been working with the state governments for the past four months for preparations regarding Covid-19 vaccination in the country.

"For the past four months, the union government has been preparing with the state governments at the state, district, and even at the block level. We have been preparing for the past four months," the minister said.

"As far as the country's ability is concerned, I would like to remind that around 25 years ago, India had 60 percent of polio-affected children in the world. We started giving vaccines to children below the age of five years on a single day. I got support from people. We first did it in Delhi, which was followed by other parts of the country. The country's model was followed by many Southeast Asian nations. We gave vaccines to children for two decades and the result was that in 2014, India came in the WHO category of polio-free nations," he added,

"We also carry out a universal immunization programme under which we give 12 types of vaccines to children. So there is no shortcoming in our ability. We have made full preparation. We have involved the state governments, made task force at the state level, district, and block level. We have provided training to master trainers in the country and also at the state level we have provided training. We have given training in 260 districts to more than 20,000 people," he said.

The minister referred to Co-WIN digital platform, including a mobile application, for real-time monitoring of Covid-19 vaccine delivery.

"Co-Win has been developed as a platform where the vaccine will be tracked along with its temperature. It will also track the potential beneficiary up to the point till that person gets a second dose and he generates his certificate," he said.

The minister said there are 28,000 to 29,000 cold chain points in the country. "The procurement process has also been started for requirements like vaccine carriers for cold chains, deep freezers, mobile vans, and refrigerators. How many teams are required at vaccination centre and volunteers require to assist those teams, what will be norms at places where the vaccination will be given, the government has worked in detail on many issues with the state governments," he said.

Harsh Vardhan said it was a matter of great happiness and pride that Prime Minister Narendra Modi regularly monitors such issues and "provides guidance and suggestions". He also referred to the Prime Minister's visits to facilities that are developing the Covid-19 vaccine.

The minister said India may begin vaccinating people against Covid-19 in January and the government's first priority has been the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

There are currently nine Covid-19 vaccine candidates in different phases of clinical trials in India -- six are under clinical trials and three in the pre-clinical phase.

Worst is over

The minister said that the worst is over concerning coronavirus in the country but people still need to follow Covid appropriate behaviour to stay safe.

"At a personal level, I think that the worst is over concerning the Covid-19 situation. I have been following this situation right from the time when we had our first case on January 30, 2020. Since then, I have watched everything from the closest of quarters with meticulous precision. If we look at the things in the last three-four months then things are in a declining phase," Dr Vardhan told ANI in an exclusive interview.

"But we need to strictly follow Covid appropriate behaviour and cannot afford to relax on that front," he added.

Substantiating his point, the Union Health Minister said that right now India has just around three lakh active cases and its recovery rate is 95 to 96 percent which is significantly higher than many developed countries.

"Right now, we have just about three lakh active cases in the country. A few months ago, we had almost 10 lakh cases. Out of over one crore cases that have happened, around 95 lakh persons have already recovered and gone back home," he said.

"We have the highest recovery rates in the world: between 95 and 96 percent. Compared to some of the developed countries of the world like the USA, Russia, or Brazil whose recovery rate ranges between 60 and 80 percent, we are better placed," he added.

Dr Vardhan said: "Our fatality rate is also significantly low at 1.45 percent now. I feel the worse may probably be over but with a note of caution." "The major tool against Covid-19 will ultimately be masks, hand hygiene and physical distancing that we all need to follow. The troubles that we had to face as a country due to Covid-19 are on the decline. In the coming year, the research of the scientists in the direction of developing a vaccine will also be successful," he added.

With 24,337 new Covid-19 cases recorded in the last 24 hours, India's total coronavirus cases reached 1,00,55,560 on Monday, data from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said.

The total numbers of recovered and active cases in the country are 96,06,111 and 3,03,639 respectively. With 333 deaths in the last 24 hours, the country's death toll stands at 1,45,810.

(With ANI inputs)

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