NEW DELHI: The Centre is planning to widen the scope of the COVID-19 immunisation drive by bringing more population groups under its ambit, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Friday, days after everyone above 45 years was made eligible to get vaccinated from April 1.
He said people have embraced the 'Made in India' vaccines, and it is due to this enthusiasm and trust that the country crossed the last one crore vaccination in just under four days.
The countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on January 16 with healthcare workers getting inoculated first and immunisation of frontline workers began from February 2.
The next phase of COVID-19 vaccination has commenced from March 1 for those who are over 60 years of age and for people aged 45 and above with specified comorbid conditions.
"A few days ago, the government announced that from April 1 all citizens aged 45 years and above, whether having any comorbidity or not, will be eligible to get vaccinated. The government is already planning to widen the umbrella of COVID-19 vaccine beneficiaries soon to cover other sections of the population," Vardhan said.
He made these remarks during his keynote address on 'Reshape Tomorrow Summit' organised by The Economic Times, according to a health ministry statement.
"I have often called 2020 the year of science. A vaccine development process that used to take many years, often decades, has been condensed to about 11 months.
"Just in January last year, research started with a previously unknown virus and we now have not just one, but several vaccines that will be administered to millions of people before the end of the year with several other types of COVID-19 vaccines also on the way," the minister said.
Both Covaxin and Covishield are being manufactured in India.
But, Covaxin by Bharat Biotech has been developed in the country under the ambit of 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' (self-reliant India) showcasing the nation's remarkable scientific acumen and vaccine development capability to the world, he said.
"People have embraced our 'Made in India' vaccines, and it is due to this enthusiasm and trust, we crossed our last one crore vaccinations in just under four days," the minister was quoted as saying in a statement.
Vardhan also described India's investment in the 'test, track and treat' strategy along with the behavioural change campaign as the bedrock of the country's highest recovery rate and minuscule fatality rate, it said.
He praised Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's decision to allocate Rs 35,000 crore for the COVID-19 vaccination drive in the 2021-22 budget.
"On January 16, India started its national vaccination programme against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
That day witnessed vaccination of the highest number of beneficiaries anywhere in the world on the first day.
Back then, our priority was to use the COVID-19 vaccine as a shield to protect our healthcare and frontline workers.
"Within the first 34 days, we touched 1 crore vaccination, and in the subsequent weeks, we opened the vaccination to other priority groups. Throughout this vaccination drive, our focus has been on keeping the services as citizen-friendly as possible," Vardhan said.
To speed up the pace of the vaccination drive, the Centre has lifted time restrictions and people can now get immunised round the clock according to their convenience across India, he said.
Applauding the collaborative approach followed by India for planning and execution of the vaccination drive, Vardhan propounded the exercise as an excellent example of how the federal system can work in synergy to maximize the reach of a programme.
The vaccination drive is being coordinated as a 'Jan Bhagidari Aandolan' involving many stakeholders like ministries, departments, professional bodies, medical colleges, NGOs, CSOs, media houses, private sector, youth and women volunteer groups, he added.
"In these trying times when the clamour for 'vaccine nationalism' is on the rise, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, being a champion of global cooperation and humanity, has led the way by example.
"His decision to extend help to our global family not only resonates well with our age-old virtues of 'Vasudhaivakutumbakam', exalting the entire world as one family but has also further cemented India's stature as a true leader in the comity of nations," the health minister said.