India will commence a COVID vaccine drive once scientists give the go-ahead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced.
In a statement on Friday to leaders of India’s different political parties, the Prime Minister said healthcare and other frontline workers and the elderly would be prioritised for vaccination against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19. The announcement came as many vaccine candidates have shown promise in recent weeks. Modi said the COVID vaccine drive may even be ready for rollout in the next few weeks.
“The Centre is working on the basis of suggestions from state governments about who will be inoculated in the first phase of the vaccination drive,” Modi said as central and state-level authorities collaborate on a vaccination campaign likely to pose many logistical challenges for the world’s second most populous nation. As previously noted by Health Issues India, “India’s vast population places it in a difficult spot amongst the global community in attempts to vaccinate against COVID-19. What is apparent is that in order to succeed, a herculean effort is in order.” To this end, the Union Government earmarked as much as US$7 billion to fund the COVID vaccine drive.
In terms of the vaccine itself, Modi told party leaders that India has manufacturing capacity assured for almost eight vaccine candidates at various clinical stages. Three of these are being made in India.
“Our scientists are very confident of succeeding in their endeavour of developing a vaccine against COVID-19,” Modi said. “There are names of vaccines from different countries doing the rounds in the market, but the world is keeping a watch on having the cheapest and safest vaccine. That is why, it is natural that the world is watching India.”
In addition, Modi urged vigilance against vaccine-related misinformation – an issue that has been a hot topic throughout the pandemic with experts warning of a so-called ‘infodemic’ running in parallel. International observers ranging from the Red Cross to the World Health Organization (WHO) have warned of the potential dangers of fake news about the pandemic and a vaccine in particular.
India is far from exempt to the negative effects of misinformation. As Statista pointed out earlier this year, “multiple surveys and studies in recent years found that an overwhelming majority of people in the country access news primarily through social media where information rarely gets checked for validity and authenticity.”
At the time, Health Issues India reported how this dangerous trend “this has manifested during the COVID-19 pandemic, with India being a large progenitor of fake news about COVID-19 shared on WhatsApp and social media feeds being replete with unverified cures for the novel coronavirus and myths about its origins.”
In this vein, Modi called on party leaders to “must make sure rumours are not spread during vaccination, rumours that are anti-national and anti-human. Thus, all political parties must make sure that we save all Indians from such rumours and spread awareness.”