Covering all 300mn people could take 7-8 months: Paul

It could take at least seven to eight months for the 300 million people identified by the Union government for vaccination against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) to get the shot in the first phase, NITI Aayog member Dr VK Paul said on Wednesday.

“We would have enough stockpile to cater to the 300 million people in seven to eight months,” he said during the National Grand Rounds – a virtual platform for doctors to share knowledge about Covid-19 organised by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

Paul, who was the head of the department of paediatrics at AIIMS, was talking about the logistics of the large-scale vaccination drive India is set to initiate and how the priority groups – healthcare workers, frontline workers, people over 50, and those who have comorbid conditions – were selected for the first phase.

India’s drug controller has cleared two vaccines for restricted emergency use. While the one by Oxford University-AstraZeneca is being manufactured in the country by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), the other one is Bharat Biotech’s indigenously developed candidate.

“I will take whatever (vaccine) is allotted to me by the health department of my state. I will take absolutely without hesitation; I am willing to take it in public whichever vaccine is tossed up. And, if I was to exercise a choice… I have a preference for the vaccine that my institution AIIMS has tested,” said Dr Paul, referring to Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.

The government has faced questions for what critics termed rushed approvals to the two vaccines, especially Covaxin, which is yet to release its phase III data. Bharat Biotech, however, has said the vaccine is “200% safe”.

At the event, vaccine expert Dr Gagandeep Kang said: “The phase III data of Covaxin will likely be available by March or April of this year. The next vaccine to be approved will likely be the one developed by Gamaleya (Sputnik V) that is conducting a restricted trial like the AstraZeneca vaccine. The full dataset will likely be available by April.”

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