Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan on Thursday told the Rajya Sabha that the government expected a vaccine against the coronavirus to be available in India by the beginning of the next year.

“India is making effective efforts to develop a vaccine like the rest of the world,” Vardhan said while addressing the Upper House of the Parliament. “Three vaccine candidates are in phase one, two and three of clinical trials.”

The health minister added: “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an expert group has been set up to monitor the process. We expect that a vaccine would be available in India by the beginning of the next year. We are also coordinating with the World Health Organization and the global efforts to produce vaccines.”

Vardhan said the Centre’s objective was to bring the death rate down to less than 1% from the present 1.64%, which is still among the lowest in the world. He added that the Centre and the states had been unitedly fighting the health crisis since eight months. “The prime minister did not make any decision without consulting experts and the chief ministers,” he said. The Union health minister also referred to the lockdown as a “historic” step.

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Vardhan had told the Lok Sabha on Monday that the nationwide lockdown had helped prevent 14 lakh to 29 lakh cases and saved the lives of 37,000 to 78,000 people. In response to a question during Thursday’s session on how the government had arrived at the figures, Vardhan said that data from five organisations, including Boston Consulting Group and Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, had been considered.

Last week, the health minister had expressed hope about India getting its coronavirus vaccine by early 2021. Vardhan had added that he will take the first dose to dispel doubts about its safety.

India reported a record 97,894 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, taking its tally to 51,18,254. The country’s toll rose by 1,132 to 83,198. India reported over 82,000 recoveries for the second consecutive day, taking the total to 40,25,080. The country’s active cases crossed 10 lakh.