The minister said three vaccine candidates have reached different stages of trial — Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3. He, however, cautioned that even if the vaccine is developed, it will take time before it can be made available in large quantities, hence winning the battle against Covid-19 will require people to strictly maintain hand hygiene, follow respiratory etiquette by wearing masks and stick to social distancing norms.
Rejecting the view of some opposition members who pointed that the lockdown had been of no use, Vardhan said analysis done by experts had shown that many more cases and deaths would have occurred in the absence of the measure. Pointing out that the lockdown was used to spruce up preparedness, he said from one testing lab in the beginning to 1,700 labs today, the country has come a long way and is totally equipped for a fight against the virus with people having access to testing facilities at short distances.
In order to drive home the point that India has put up a strong fight against the virus, he reminded the House that when the pandemic started picking up, various international experts had predicted that the cases in India may rise to 300 million by July-August, and there could be around 5-6 million deaths.
Harsh Vardhan said the country’s recovery rate of 78-79% is one of the highest in the world. “We have around 50 lakh cases but out of these only 10 lakh are active cases in the country right now,” he said.
On development of a vaccine, he said the science and technology ministry, ICMR and drug companies have come together for a solution. “Vaccines can come in future. Extensive planning is under way to execute how to manage the scenario,” Vardhan said.
“Under the Prime Minister, an expert group is studying this. We expect by the beginning of next year we can have a vaccine in the country. In this regard, we are also coordinating with WHO and global organisations,” he said.
Demanding more funds for the states to fight the pandemic, leader of opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said India should work towards getting the vaccine at an “affordable price” at an early date through a mechanism like pooled procurement. He also said the government should be “cautious” about the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine since possible long-term side-effects could adversely impact the youth of the country.
Azad listed out several suggestions, which ranged from ensuring a proper mechanism for the last-mile delivery of the new vaccine and halving the price of sanitisers and soaps to establishing more bio-safety Level-4 and Level-3 labs in the country.