Liberalisation of the COVID-19 vaccine programme will accelerate pace of the drive and also incentivise manufacturers to set up capacity, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Tuesday.
Speaking at an event organised by local industry lobby IMC, Vardhan admitted that these are trying times, adding that the government policies are shaped by the evolving situation. He credited 'collaborative efforts' of all stakeholders for the world's largest vaccine drive progressing at a 'rapid pace', claiming that India has been the fastest country to touch 12 crore jabs. The minister said at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday it was decided to liberalise the procurement, pricing and administering of COVID-19 vaccines, wherein all citizens above the age of 18 shall be eligible to get vaccinated from May 1. "This will further accelerate the pace of our vaccine drive while incentivising and existing and new players to ramp up production in the country," Vardhan said. "These are trying times for our country, keeping in view the unprecedented surge in COVID cases. The situation seems overwhelming once again, but this time we are better informed about the threat we are dealing with. We've the tools to tackle it," he added.
The health minister further said the crisis "shook us to the core", but it has also emboldened the resolve to rise up to the challenge together. "Today, India is reporting another spike of COVID-19 in many states. It is an extremely challenging task to contain a virus as contagious as this in a country like ours which has a very high population density in big cities and towns," he said. However, the minister said the government is much better prepared than it was in 2020 and is doing everything it can to bring the crisis under control with timely steps to break the chain of transmission and to expend the vaccination drive. Vardhan also welcomed a suggestion to build a 'statue of immunity' and also a centre for studies in immunity. He said affordability, accessibility and equity are the key pillars in the healthcare rendering strategy, and acknowledged that a lot of work would not have been possible without technological advancements.
The minister also lauded the role played by the healthcare workers over the last 14 months at a high physical, emotional and mental cost, adding that the country shall always be indebted to them.