Harsh Vardhan's 'end-game' statement was in context of decline in COVID cases at that time: Government

By PTI
NEW DELHI: The statement by the Union Health Minister on March 7 last year that India is in the end-game of the COVID-19 pandemic was in the context of the decrease in cases noted across the country during the period, Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar informed Rajya Sabha on Tuesday while replying to a query.

It, in turn, was expected to boost the morale of the healthcare and frontline workers and to highlight to the community at large that there has to be a continued focus on COVID-appropriate behaviour and use of vaccines, Pawar said in her written reply.

Pawar was responding to a question on the evidence on the basis of which the then health minister Harsh Vardhan had made the statement.

Vardhan was recently replaced by Mansukh Mandaviya in a Cabinet rejig.

In her reply, Pawar said after recording the first peak COVID-19 trajectory in India with 97,894 cases on 17th September, India was recording a sustained and considerable decline in the number of daily new cases.

India’s active caseload was as low as 1.48 percent of India’s total positive cases.

Further, the COVID-19 outbreak was contracting since only two states — Kerala and Maharashtra — were accounting for more than 70 percent of total active cases in the country.

This was further corroborated by the fact that more than 400 districts were reporting less than 10 cases with a test positivity of less than 1 percent which shows that the transmission was limited, the minister said.

This decline was also evident in terms of test positivity rate which had fallen to less than 5 percent in more than 25 states which indicated that the spread of infection was on the decline.

“Health Minister’s statement was thus in the context of the decrease in cases being noted across the country during the period. The statement was highlighting the status of cases and the spread of infection during the period. This need not be endorsed or recommended by the National Task Force to begin with.”

“It, in turn, was expected to boost the morale of the healthcare and frontline workers and to highlight to the community at large that there has to be a continued focus on COVID-appropriate behaviour and use of vaccine,” Pawar said.

Government gives blueprint on vaccination campaign in India

The National Empowered Group on Vaccine Administration against COVID-19 is in regular talks with offshore manufacturers, including Moderna, for importing Covid vaccines, but the exact number of doses to be imported and their manner of allocation have not been finalised yet, the government informed Parliament on Tuesday.

In a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar said as on July 16, a total of 2.61 lakh doses of the Sputnik V vaccine have been administered in the country.

On how the government plans the allocation of the Moderna vaccine and the number of doses to be procured, the minister said, “The NEGVAC (National Empowered Group on Vaccine Administration against COVID-19) is in regular dialogue with offshore COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers including Moderna for import of Covid vaccines. However, the exact number of doses to be imported and their manner of allocation have not been finalised yet.”

On the current status of the arrival of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in India, Pawar said the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Moderna has been approved for restricted use in emergency situation by the Drugs Controller general of India (DCGI), while the one manufactured by Pfizer is not yet approved by the national drugs regulator.

No doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have so far been received under the US donation programme, the minister said in response to another question, adding that the NEGVAC is deliberating with offshore manufacturers, including Moderna and Pfizer, for the procurement of vaccines.

It also said that as of July 16, 46 per cent of the total number of COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered to women, which is proportionate to the country’s women population (48 per cent).

Pawar said one of the reasons for the slight gap in the vaccine coverage of women is that at the beginning of the vaccination drive, pregnancy and lactation were contraindications for inoculation, thereby making the women of child-bearing age ineligible for it.

Elaborating on the steps taken by the government to motivate women to come forward for vaccination, Pawar said on the basis of a review of the available scientific evidence and a consensus of the stakeholders, the health ministry approved vaccination of lactating women on May 19 and of pregnant women on July 2, which is expected to increase the number of vaccinations amongst women.

Further, the states have been provided with detailed guidance on preparing a counselling and vaccination plan for pregnant women.

A communication strategy is in place, which is being implemented across all the states and Union territories with a focus to sustain vaccine confidence, the minister said.

The government also said that 3.48 lakh vaccine doses, or 0.09 per cent of the total doses administered, have been given to persons without identity cards and that all beneficiaries are registered on the Co-WIN portal.

Pawar said, “All beneficiaries who have received vaccines in India are registered on Co-WIN portal. Co-WIN portal is single source of truth for vaccination status.”

“As on 16th July 2021, a total of 3.48 lakh doses (0.09% of the total doses administered) have been administered to persons without identity cards,” she said.

On the measures that have been taken to enable those without access to digital technology to get vaccinated, the minister said registration and vaccination of such people can be done through walk-in registration at a COVID-19 Vaccination Centre (CVC).

The government has also allowed registration at Common Service Centres and registration of up to four persons using a single mobile number to facilitate registration of people without mobile phones.

A detailed SOP has been issued for vaccination of people without prescribed photo ID documents through key facilitators at identified government vaccination centres.

Till July 17, a total of 48.68 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines were manufactured in the country, the government informed Parliament on Tuesday.

It also said the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) under the Ministry of Science and Technology is implementing the “Mission COVID Suraksha – the Indian COVID-19 Vaccine Development Mission”.

Under the mission, facility augmentation for production of Covaxin is being supported, whereby Bharat Biotech and three public sector enterprises (PSEs) — Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation Limited in Mumbai, Indian Immunologicals Limited (IIL) in Hyderabad and Bharat Immunologicals Biologicals Limited (BIBCOL) in Bulandshahr — are being supported.

Additionally, the technology transfer of Covaxin production to a consortium of partners, including Hester Biosciences and OmniBRx Biotechnologies Private Limited and led by Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (GBRC) under the Department of Science and Technology of the Gujarat government, is being facilitated by the DBT.

“These efforts are expected to enhance the production of Covaxin in the coming months. The Government of India has provided 100 per cent advance payment against supply orders placed with vaccine manufacturers to enable them to utilise these funds for capacity augmentation,” the minister said.

The government has also provided financial assistance to one of the domestic vaccine manufacturers for “at-risk manufacturing” of COVID-19 vaccines.

The regulatory norms have also been streamlined for the approval of vaccines in India that have received the Emergency Use License (EUL) by the FDA of the United States, the MHRA of the United Kingdom, the PMDA of Japan or the WHO-EUL.

“Till 17th July 2021, a total of 48.68 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been manufactured in India,” Pawar said.

On the precautionary measures that have been taken to combat the third wave of the pandemic, she said the health ministry continues to monitor the COVID-19 trajectory right up to the district level.

The guiding principle to minimise and avert the risk of future resurgence of cases is the five-fold strategy of test-track-treat-vaccinate and Covid-appropriate behaviour, Pawar added.

Besides, the states are also being provided with the requisite technical and financial support to prepare for and respond to any exigencies arising out of a rapid spurt in the number of cases, she said.

In addition, the government has supported the states and Union territories with ventilators, oxygen cylinders, PSA (pressure swing adsorption) plants, drugs and diagnostics as well as financial assistance for augmentation of hospital beds.

A new scheme — India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package: Phase-II (ERCP-II) — amounting to Rs 23,123 crore has been approved for the 2021-22 financial year, which aims to prevent, detect and respond to the continuing threat posed by COVID-19 and strengthen the national health systems, the minister said.