COVID-19 vaccine freebies? Centre’s expert group says no decision yet

Wear masks as pollution can contribute to SARS-CoV-2 related mortality, warns ICMR

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Tuesday 27 October 2020
Centre says no blueprint on COVID-19 vaccine prioritisation yet. Photo:

A blueprint of prioritisation for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines had not been finalised yet, the Union government’s expert group on vaccines said October 27, 2020.

The Union government’s statement came amid claims by the Bharatiya Janata Party that it would ensure the COVID-19 free vaccination of everyone in the poll-bound state of Bihar.

“Those principles (of who would get it first) are being evolved and being discussed. If the vaccine supply is not unlimited the prioritisation has to be done,” Vinod Paul, chairman of India’s group on vaccines, said in a press conference.

Paul also responded to state-specific claims.

“Some state governments have made this statement and this should be respected. But we have requested the states to wait for the overall picture first,” he said.

“Once it becomes clear, they should take a national approach towards engaging with (vaccine-producing) companies (on individual basis) and deciding the criteria for vaccine distribution,” Paul added.

He claimed there would be no shortage of resources as far as access to vaccines was concerned.

“The approach is being fine-tuned, in order to deliver the vaccine to the priority groups. There would be absolutely no problem,” Paul said on behalf of the committee.

Union Minister for Finance Nirmala Sitharaman had made a ‘free-for-all’ vaccine claim for the people of Bihar. However, her colleague, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan, had said in at least two episodes of his weekly social media programme that it would be first made available to healthcare workers and other people working on the frontline. 

The Union government has asked not just one but all states of the country to undertake an exercise to prepare the list of priority groups and submit it to the Centre by October-end, Harsh Vardhan had said.

Pollution and COVID-19

Will Delhi’s soaring population levels have an impact on COVID-19 mortality? No study had been conducted in India so far to study this. But the ones conducted in Europe and the United States had clearly demonstrated that pollution did contribute to COVID-19 mortality, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director-General Balram Bhargava said in the press conference.

“The studies compared COVID-19 mortality during the period of lockdown and when there was no lockdown to understand the correlation with pollution. They have clearly found that pollution was contributing to COVID-19-related mortality,” he said.

Bhargava also said virus particles had been found in particulate matter (PM)2.5 in studies abroad. However, it was not be known if those particles were active or dead.

Wearing a mask is the only way out. It gives you a double advantage against COVID-19 and pollution,” Bhargava said. He, however, did not clarify whether the same masks could work against both, the virus and pollution particles.

Bhargava claimed that COVID-19 in children was very rare in India. The phenomenon of a Kawasaki-like disease after COVID-19 in children had not been experienced in the country, he added.

Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said some states had shown considerable decline in cases. But he cautioned them against entering into any sort of competition of declaring themselves COVID-19 free.

Paul said several countries in Europe and the US had shown that the pandemic had peaked again and this should serve as a warning sign for India as well.

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