Union health minister Harsh Vardhan speaks during his "Sunday Samvad" programme. | Harsh Vardhan via Twitter

Coronavirus: Vaccine likely by early 2021, will take first dose, says health minister

He added that people in high-risk groups like the elderly and healthcare workers will be prioritised for vaccination.


Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan on Sunday said that India may get a vaccine against the coronavirus in the first quarter of 2021 and that he will take the first dose to dispel doubts about its safety.

“The vaccine may be ready in the first quarter of 2021 though we have not fixed a date for its launch,” Vardhan said during an online programme titled “Sunday Samvad”. “Issues like vaccine security, cost, equity, cold-chain requirements and production timelines are also being discussed by the government intensively.”

The health minister said that high-risk groups like the elderly and healthcare workers will be prioritised for vaccination. “I do not belong to the high-risk group but I will take the first dose in case people have doubts about the safety of the vaccine,” he said.

Vardhan said that it was difficult to predict which vaccine will be ready first. “Several vaccine trials are going on in India and by the first quarter of 2021, we will know the results certainly,” he said.

The health minister said that a vaccine expert group has been set up to monitor the whole process and mass production will begin after the required permissions.

Vardhan said it was too early to begin discussion on prices. “It is premature to comment on the price of the vaccine which is still under trial,” he was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times. “But the government of India will ensure that the vaccine will be made available to those who need it the most, irrespective of their paying capacity.”

The health minister’s remark came two days after Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech said it had successfully conducted clinical trials of its potential coronavirus vaccine, or Covaxin, on animals. The company said no adverse effects were seen in animals who were immunised with a two-dose regimen of the vaccine.

The human clinical trials of Bharat Biotech’s experimental vaccine are also underway. It was the first indigenous vaccine candidate to get the Drug Controller General of India’s approval forPhase I and Phase II clinical trials on June 29.

Covaxin was developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology. It is an inactivated vaccine created from a strain of the infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus. Inactivated vaccines use the killed version of the germ that causes a disease. It helps the immune system mount an antibody response towards virus.

On Saturday, British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca also announced that it had resumed the clinical trials of its experimental coronavirus vaccine in the United Kingdom, four days after the late-stage study was halted because a participant fell ill.

India reported over 94,000 coronavirus cases on Sunday, taking its tally to 47,54,356 on Sunday. As many as 78,586 people have died of the infection while 37,02,595 have recovered.