Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said experts believe that a coronavirus vaccine could be available for roll out in the next few weeks. The prime minister said this while addressing an all-party meeting on the coronavirus situation in India.

“It is believed that a vaccine would be available in the next few weeks,” he said. “As soon as scientists give a green signal, the vaccination process will begin in India.” The prime minister said that frontline healthcare workers and those with co-morbidities would be given priority during the vaccination process.

He said that India has the expertise and capacity to effectively distribute the vaccines, stating that the distribution process here was better than many other countries. Modi also said that cold chain equipment and other logistics will be boosted after taking inputs from the state governments.

“India has created a special software, Co-Win, which will give real-time information on the beneficiaries of the vaccine and its stock availability,” Modi said. He said that the National Expert Group, comprising technical experts, officials from Union ministry’s departments and zonal representatives of state governments, will handle the distribution process of the vaccine.

The prime minister said the pricing of the vaccine would be “according to the imperatives of public health” and in consultation with state governments.

In the meeting, Modi told the parties that India’s testing and recovery rate was quite high, while deaths were low.

Recalling the months of February and March when the pandemic first hit and there was a “fearful” environment in the country, Modi said that now in December, India was brimming with confidence and hope. He urged people to move forward with the same scientific approach and public participation as the country did earlier.

The prime minister asked nearly 30 leaders of various parties who were present at the meeting to give suggestions from time to time. “All your suggestions will be taken seriously and they will be an addition to the [vaccination] project,” he said.

He said eight vaccine candidates were being manufactured in India and three were being developed indigenously.

“We must make sure rumours are not spread during vaccination, rumours that are anti-national and anti-human,” Modi concluded. “Thus, all political parties must make sure that we save all Indians from such rumours and spread awareness.”

Opposition leaders ask for financial aid

During Friday’s meeting, several parties urged the government to take steps to revive the economy, The Hindu reported.

The parties also raised the matter of clearing the pending Goods and Services Tax dues and demanded additional financial help to meet the revenue shortfall that many states are facing because of the pandemic.

Trinamool Congress MP Sudip Bandhopadhyay said many state governments were suffering financial stress and emphasised on the need for monetary help. Unidentified officials told the newspaper that Shiv Sena MP Vinayak Raut argued that the Centre’s GST collection was over Rs 1 lakh crore, and therefore there was no reason to withhold the state governments share.

Officials also said that Telangana Rashtra Samithi MP Namma Nageshwar Rao asked the government to provide the vaccine free of cost and ensure that cold storage units are set up across the country.

Samajwadi MP Ram Gopal Yadav suggested not to rush the vaccine delivery and allow it for use only after being assured of its safety, according to ANI. He added that the Centre said it would increase the Gross Domestic Product to 2.5% by 2025, which is 1.5% now. “I’ve suggested to make it 2.5% in 2022 instead of 2025,” Yadav said.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader TR Baalu spoke about the farm law protests against the agriculture laws. He was the only leader to speak on it. Unidentified officials told The Hindu that Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahalad Joshi told Ballu to stick to the topic, when he raised the matter. They said that Baalu replied that the farmers have been on the road for the past 10 days, adding that the matter should not be ignored. Officials said his mic was muted and the meeting went ahead.

Vaccine preparations

On November 28, Modi had visited the Serum Institute of India in Pune, Bharat Biotech’s facility in Hyderabad and Zydus Cadila in Ahmedabad to review their vaccine development efforts.

Serum Institute Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla, at a press briefing after Modi’s visit, had announced that his firm will apply for emergency use authorisation for its coronavirus vaccine candidate Covishield in two weeks. He also said that the Centre was likely to buy 300-400 million [30 to 40 crore] doses of the vaccine by July, 2021.

India has not signed a deal for a coronavirus vaccine yet so it is unclear when it will be available for use in the country. Availability of the vaccine in India will be subject to approval by domestic regulators, and the Indian government agreeing to purchase them.

Meanwhile, India’s coronavirus cases rose by 36,595 on Friday morning, taking the country’s total to 95,71,559. As many as 90,16,289 people have recovered. The toll rose by 540 to 1,39,188.