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EXCLUSIVE | One-Billion Vaccine Milestone in Sight, But India's Journey Still Long: Dr VK Paul

By: Runjhun Sharma

CNN-News18

Last Updated: October 20, 2021, 09:35 IST

New Delhi

A healthcare worker administers a dose of Covishield to a shepherd near Pahalgam in south Kashmir's Anantnag district. (Reuters File)

A healthcare worker administers a dose of Covishield to a shepherd near Pahalgam in south Kashmir's Anantnag district. (Reuters File)

The Covid-19 Task Force chief says the mammoth task before the government remains to ensure that 'no one is left behind'.

As India inches closer to the 100-crore vaccination mark, the government is on a mission mode to get everyone vaccinated. In an exclusive interview with CNN-News18, Covid-19 Task Force Chief Dr VK Paul elaborated on India’s strategy to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’. The Centre, which is planning a lavish celebration once India crosses the historic milestone, has requested state governments to trace those who have not received even a single dose along with those with pending second doses - on priority.

Excerpts from the interview:

As India inches closer to the 100 crore vaccination mark, what challenges does the government still face?

Those who have not been connected, it’s our duty now to reach out to them, go out, locate them, persuade them, talk to them, make it possible for them to reach the vaccination stations, as they may have difficulties.

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This, in some sense, is the last part of our climb. I won’t call it the last mile just yet but definitely, the tougher part is now to reach out to those who have been left behind. We have made specific requests to our state governments to undertake this effort in mission mode. The government is going to locate people; we have an army of health care workers. We are dealing with people that are in remote ‘bastis’, districts and villages.

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This is our mission - those who have not received the first dose should receive it. Those who have received the first dose must take the second one. And that’s the challenge we will work towards.

What is the status of inoculation of children and adolescents?

When you need to inoculate adolescents and children, it has to, first, be guided by science, and second, by availability.

When will ZyCovD join India’s vaccine arsenal?

ZyCovD vaccine is licensed for up to 12+ years upwards but it will be available in a modest quantity. In a stable scenario, it will be available to the tune of about one crore doses per month going forward. Now we have to decide how to use this vaccine. Should we use it for adults or should we use it for selective children? And we have posed this question to The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI). We have asked them what would be the best use of this special vaccine. Both the scientific part and the practical part should be weighed systematically and we look forward to NTAGI’s guidance for it.

What is the status of paediatric Covaxin?

Covaxin has also passed the threshold for the provisional process towards EUA for children that go up to the age of 2 years. But again, we will have to decide based on the available stockpile how to go forward.

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Our priority right now is to continue to explore options for children and adolescents for sure but our thrust is to cover the adult population for which there is no dearth of vaccines anymore.

Since Covaxin is an inactivated vaccine and difficult to manufacture, will we have enough vaccines supplies to inoculate all children above the age of 2 years?

We need to truly keep in mind the availability. Covaxin stockpile is available and it has risen in terms of supply and it will rise further to around 5 crore doses or so per month. We can visualise that. Then we have to see that Covaxin has been a mainstay for our vaccination program and that must go on. And as I said, our priority is to vaccinate all adults, first and foremost, and therefore that thrust should continue.

At the same time, keep in mind the overall availability of Covaxin and the overall program targeted at the adult population. How to position the vaccination and at what time to start the vaccination is under active consideration. But once we start the vaccination, we need to make sure it is sustainable and we meet the expectations of people. At this point, no dose of Covaxin is ‘wasted’ or ‘kept in a stock’ somewhere. It is to be used and at this point in time, it should be used effectively for the adult population.

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first published:October 20, 2021, 09:27 IST
last updated:October 20, 2021, 09:35 IST