Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Sunday said that the government’s target was to receive and utilise 40 to 50 crore coronavirus vaccines, covering approximately 20 to 25 crore of the country’s population. Vardhan said that frontline workers will be given priority during vaccinations.

The list of frontline health workers includes both doctors, nurses, paramedics, sanitary staff, Accredited Social Health Activist workers, surveillance officers and many other occupational categories who are involved in tracing, testing and treatment of patients.

In the fourth edition of “Sunday Samvaad”, the health minister also said that states were told to send details of “priority population groups” by October-end. He was referring to the section of the population that needed to be inoculated first.

“The government is working round the clock to assure that there is a fair and equitable distribution of vaccine when it is prepared,” he said. “Just like everywhere in the world, our government’s utmost priority is how to ensure vaccines for each and everybody in the country.”

He added that there was a high-level expert panel weighing in on all aspects of the vaccine and its distribution process. The committee under Niti Aayog Member (Health) Dr VK Paul is drawing up the plans of the process.

On clinical trials and the way they were being conducted, he said they were based on set principles, which were reviewed by a subject expert committee of the Drugs Controller General of India. On a question on black marketing of vaccines, Vardhan said that the inoculation shots will be distributed with pre-decided priority and in a programmed way. “To ensure transparency and accountability, details of the entire process will be shared in the coming months,” he said.

He also dismissed rumours that Covid-19 was being used as a ploy to steal internal organs from patients in Punjab. “No one can even touch those who have died of the coronavirus,” he asserted.

On a question regarding conducting Phase 3 clinical trial of Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccine in India, the health minister said that the matter was still under consideration and that no decision was taken on it yet.

He assured his social media followers who had raised a lot of questions on the vaccines that all of them have proven to be efficacious, safe and immunogenic during clinical trials abroad. Vardhan said there was a need to undergo bridging studies to prove the same on the Indian population. He added that these studies can be conducted quickly with a much smaller sample size.

India’s coronavirus count rose to 65,49,393 on Sunday, as the country reported 75,829 new cases in the last 24 hours. India’s toll rose by 940 to 1,01,782.