NITI Aayog Member (Health) VK Paul on Monday said that India has sufficient stockpile of coronavirus vaccines to inoculate priority groups in the first phase of the vaccination drive, PTI reported.

“Our first phase (of vaccination) comprises priority groups with high risk of mortality and our healthcare and frontline workers,” Paul told the news agency in an interview. “For them, we believe, we have enough (Covid-19 vaccine) stockpile.”

Paul said India’s vaccine stock will increase in a few months with availability of more options. “And more acceleration can be brought about in the vaccination programme,” he added.

The NITI Aayog member, who is also chairperson of the National Expert Group for coronavirus vaccination, said that the government will soon announce its plans for buying and distributing the vaccines.

Paul also elaborated on what the biggest challenge for India’s massive vaccination programme would be. “Well, the single most important challenge for mass vaccination on such a scale is mobilising beneficiaries on the appointed day and to conduct sessions in smooth, systemic protocols, ensuring Covid-19 appropriate precautions,” he told PTI.

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On India not having the adequate experience for vaccinating adults, Paul said, “We have tremendous experience of running immunisation programs. We have experience of running affairs like national elections which happen over a short period of time across the country.”

The NITI Aayog member added: “So those experiences and those SOP [Standard Operating Procedures] will come handy and build on that India’s ingenuity, India’s innovation and India’s experience will make it possible for us to mount a successful vaccination programme, even though it is unprecedented.”

Paul said that India has to reach about 70% herd immunity for the vaccination and the coronavirus pandemic to come to an end. He added that enough people should be vaccinated for schools, courts and the Parliament to function normally.

“Ultimately, we would like vaccination to stop, stall and extinguish the pandemic, that is the ultimate purpose,” Paul said.

The Drugs Controller General of India on Sunday gave emergency approval to the vaccines developed by Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute. The Serum Institute is the local maker of Covishield, the vaccine developed by Oxford University and pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca. Bharat Biotech has manufactured India’s first indigenous vaccine candidate Covaxin in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology.

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan had said last week that coronavirus vaccines will be provided free to 3 crore frontline workers, including medical staff. A vaccine dry run also began in all states across the country on January 2 to assess the readiness for the roll-out programme.

The government had also successfully conducted a two-day pilot coronavirus vaccination drive in four states – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Assam – on December 28 and December 29. The countrywide dry run was more ambitious in scope as it covered all state capitals, including districts that are situated in difficult terrains, or have poor logistical support.