New Delhi, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare responded to questions posed by his social media interactors on the fourth episode of Sunday Samvaad. The COVID Vaccine seems to have been a dominant theme in the mind of those who chose to submit questions for the episode. He also patiently explained related topics like the use of Plasma Therapy in COVID, the eradication of TB by 2025 in light of the COVID pandemic and the opening up of India’s schools.
On the questions of prioritising the distribution of vaccines, Dr. Harsh Vardhan answered that the Health Ministry is currently preparing a format in which States will submit lists of priority population groups to receive vaccine, especially health workers engaged in the management of COVID19. The list of frontline health workers will include both government as well as private sector doctors, nurses, paramedics, sanitary staff, ASHA workers, surveillance officers and many other occupational categories who are involved in tracing, testing and treatment of patients. This exercise is targeted to be completed by the end of this October and the States are being closely guided to also submit details about cold chain facilities and other related infrastructure which will be required down to the block level. The Centre is also working on plans for building capacities in HR, training, supervision etc on a massive scale and roughly estimates to receive and utilise 400-500 million doses covering approximately 20-25 crore people by July 2021. He further informed that the Government is also keeping an eye on immunity data with regard to COVID-19 disease while finalizing these plans.
He stated that there is a high level committee under the chairmanship of Niti Aayog Member (Health) Shri VK Paul which is drawing up the entire process. Vaccine procurement is being done centrally and each consignment will be tracked real time until delivery to ensure it reaches those who need it most. He added that these Committees are working on understanding the timelines of availability of various vaccines in the country, obtaining commitments from vaccine manufacturers to make available maximum number of doses for India inventory & supply chain management and also on prioritisation of high-risk groups.This is work in progress which will be completed by the time the vaccines are ready to ensure the swift roll-out of the immunisationprogram.
Clearing glaring misconceptions that seem to have captured the imagination of rumour mongers in pockets of Punjab, Dr. Harsh Vardhan strongly rebutted allegations that the COVID-19 pandemic was a government conspiracy to enable organ harvesting of healthy individuals. He stated that the Government is not tied to fiscal considerations from financing agencies for implementation of the COVID-19 emergency response in light of the recent loan from the World Bank- Asian Infrastructural Investment Bank and the Asian Development Bank to the tune of Rs 15,000 Crores for managing COVID.
The Minister assured another respondent that there would be no diversion or black-marketing, “Vaccines will be distributed as per pre-decided priority and in a programmed manner. To ensure transparency and accountability, details of the entire process willbe shared in the coming months.” He stressed the need to prioritize health care workers and adults or those have underlying health conditions.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan detailed steps taken to protect hard earned gains in TB from the COVID pandemic; Advance directives were issued by the Central TB Division, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and reviewed with States/Districts to ensure continuity of TB services; Guidance for TB diagnostic labs was provided for them to remain functional during the Pandemic; Provisions were made for extended duration of drugs, door-step delivery and advisory issued on extra precaution for TB patients; New surveillance strategies were developed; TB Containment Facilities were leveraged and support provided for institutional-based screening; Awareness activities that concentrated on Infection, Prevention, and control activities were focused upon. The minister restated that notwithstanding the social determinants of TB like poverty, malnutrition, poor housing conditions, community hygiene and poor health-seeking behaviour, TB will be eliminated by 2025.