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Policymakers deliberating to identify groups of people to first receive COVID-19 vaccine: Officials


NEW DELHI: Policymakers are actively holding deliberations to identify groups of people who will first receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it is developed, officials said.

Speaking at an international symposium on Novel Ideas in Science and Ethics of Vaccines against COVID-19 pandemic, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Rajesh Bhushan said prioritising who should get the vaccine first is a topic being discussed both within and outside the government.

"There is an emerging consensus that frontline workers are the people who have the best claim over who should get the vaccine first. But while that question engages us and there is no finality on the question, the issue of who will be on priority list and who comes after frontline healthcare workers and that is if they come first then who are the people that would follow them," he said.

He said deliberations are on whether it will be the elderly or it will be people with co-morbidities or whether it will be people placed in socio-economic disadvantage whose immunity has been weakened because of prolonged exposure to poverty and malnutrition.

"So these are the questions presently engaging the policymakers within Government of India," he said.

NITI Aayog member V K Paul who is also part of the COVID-19 national taskforce said policymakers are actively deliberating to prioritise the groups of people who will first receive the COVID-19 vaccine once it is developed.

"India's journey for a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine shall be driven by the best scientific and ethical principles and for that our regulatory and scientific mechanisms are already in place," he said at the symposium.

He said India's journey to scale up and access to vaccines by all will be in full compliance with the high principles of equity and human rights.

"We cannot accept a situation where the rich have the vaccine and not the poor. This is simply unacceptable. We will ensure that pathways are created. We are also working actively to prioritise the groups that should receive the vaccine before the other group and those decisions are in the active stage of being deliberated upon," he added.

Paul said India visualises its capabilities against COVID-19, including the vaccines, not just for the country and its citizens but for the world and humanity.

"The Indian government values and welcomes international partnerships, technical exchange, knowledge sharing and collective discourse in this journey," Paul said.

Indian Medical Research Institute (ICMR) Director General Balram Bhargava said once a safe and effective vaccine is developed there will be four major challenges.

"One is prioritisation and fair distribution to vulnerable groups, second is logistics of vaccine rollout, including cold chain, and third is stockpiling and fourth is training people who will administer this vaccine," he said.

"In context of these four points, India will have to play a significant role and I can assure you that it is a part India will play with great care and responsibility. It will require immense collaboration across borders keeping in mind the noblest principles of science and humanity," he added.

Underlining that the need for a vaccine is both great and urgent, Bhargava said a dilemma is that the pandemic is going at a devastating pace and to develop a vaccine one needs time and it is not only for science part of it, but ethics and the regulatory and social considerations that need to be kept in mind.

"We need to crystallize a mix and match of these ideas which may run in parallel with the right balance of the speed and safety. A balance between speed and safety has to be maintained once we crystallize novel ideas," he said.