India’s Covid vaccine priority will depend on 2 parameters: Harsh Vardhan

New Delhi (NVI): Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan today said that the prioritisation of groups for COVID-19 vaccine in India shall be based on two key parameters- first, the occupational hazard and risk of exposure to infection, and secondly, the risk of developing severe disease and increased mortality.

Harsh Vardhan was responding to questions by his social media interactors on the fifth episode of his weekly program ‘Sunday Samvaad’.

Categorically denying the rumors of the Government prioritizing young and working-class for the COVID-19 vaccine for economic reasons, the Minister said, “the prioritisation of groups for COVID-19 vaccine shall be based on two key considerations: Occupational hazard and risk of exposure to infection, and the risk of developing severe disease and increased mortality.”

On the issue of how the government plans to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine by prioritizing target groups in the entire population, he clarified that it is anticipated that supplies of COVID-19 vaccines would be available in limited quantities in the beginning.

He said, “In a huge country like India, it is critical to prioritize vaccine delivery based on various factors such as per risk of exposure, comorbidity among various population groups, the mortality rate among COVID Cases, and several others.”

He also added that India is looking at the availability of several different types of vaccines, of which some may be suitable for a particular age group while others may not be

Reiterating that the most important component of the planning is the cold chain and other logistics which need to be planned appropriately to ensure no glitches occur in vaccine delivery even at the last mile, Dr Harsh Vardhan highlighted the need of the massive advocacy required for building community sensitization activities to understand the reasons for vaccine hesitancy and address them appropriately.

On the issue of Emergency Use Authorization of COVID vaccines in India, the Minister said that the issue is being deliberated at present. “Adequate safety and efficacy data is required for emergency use authorization vaccine approval for ensuring patient safety. Further course of action will depend on the data generated,” he added.

He informed that COVID-19 Vaccines currently in trial in India are 2 dose and 3 dose vaccines. Vaccine by Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech require 2 Doses while the Cadila Healthcare vaccine requires 3 Doses. For other vaccines in preclinical stages, the dosing is being tested, he stated.

On the need to include other novel candidates as COVID Vaccine, he said, “Considering the large population size of India, one vaccine or vaccine manufacturer will not be able to fulfil the requirements of vaccinating the whole country. Therefore, we are open to assessing the feasibility of introducing several COVID-19 vaccines in the country as per their availability for the Indian population.”

Sharing his views on Public-Private Partnership during the pandemic, Dr Harsh Vardhan further said that the present situation demands multiple vaccine partners to ensure maximum vaccination coverage to the Indian population and the use of a single vaccine from a certain company should not be seen through a negative lens.

The Minister also requested people to not share any content related to health & safety without double-checking its veracity. He added that as we learn more about the novel coronavirus and more vaccine candidates start their Phase II and Phase III Trials, there is bound to be a lot of fake and incorrect news on social media that is perpetrated by people with vested interests.

He shared that the COVID-19 Fact Check Unit in the Press Information Bureau (PIB) under Union Ministry of Information & Broadcasting is regularly scanning social media platforms for fake news and requested his followers to report such fake news to PIB‟s fact check unit.

Harsh Vardhan also informed about the rollout of the FELUDA Test in the near future. Based on tests in over 2000 patients during the trials at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) and on testing in private labs, the test showed 96% sensitivity and 98% specificity. This compares favourably to ICMR’s current acceptation criteria of RT-PCR Kit of at least 95% Sensitivity and at least 99% Specificity, he stated.

He added that the Feluda paper strip test for SRS-CoV-2 diagnosis has been developed by CSIR-IGIB and has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India for a commercial launch. The kit has already been validated by the Department of Atomic Energy’s National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore. “While I cannot put an exact date on the availability, we should expect this test within the next few weeks”, he said.