by Peerzada Arshad Hamid
NEW DELHI, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Sunday that no date for launching the COVID-19 vaccine has been fixed yet but it might be ready by the first quarter of next year.
"It is expected that by the first quarter of 2021 we shall definitely know the results of these vaccine trials," the minister said while addressing the first episode of his social media interaction program namely Sunday Samvaad (Sunday conversation).
"Efforts are being made to ensure that vaccine manufactures will try to produce these vaccines parallelly so that we don't lose precious time in providing vaccines to the population."
His comments came two days after Indian vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India (SII) said it would pause Phase 3 trials that were to begin in India next week after international biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca stopped vaccine trials in four countries as a precautionary measure.
The pausing of trials by the pharma giant was linked to a British volunteer showing potentially adverse symptoms.
The Drugs Controller General Of India (DCGI) has ordered SII to suspend recruitment in its clinical trials for Phase 2 and Phase 3.
The minister said that the government was taking full precautions in conducting the human trials of the vaccine.
"Issues like vaccine security, cost, equity, cold-chain requirements, production timelines, etc. are also being discussed intensely," he said.
Vardhan said he would volunteer to receive the COVID-19 vaccine first if people have a "trust deficit" on the drug. However, he stressed that frontline health workers, senior citizens and those with comorbidities should be given the vaccine first whenever it becomes available.
"If there are doubts over government or around the scientists or over the development of vaccine then to dispel the doubts I will be the first to get vaccinated," the minister said. "However, I personally feel the ones who need it (vulnerable groups) shall be given the vaccine and I am not among those."
During his one-hour interaction, the minister answered questions mailed to him pertaining to COVID-19.
"Several vaccine trials are going on in India. At present, we can't predict which one will emerge as the most effective. But by the first quarter of 2021, we will definitely know the results," the minister said. "A vaccine expert group has been set up, which is overseeing the entire process. While the trial results get assessed, the manufacturers will be advised to begin mass-production so that no time is wasted."
Vardhan also said it was premature to comment on the price of the vaccine which was still under trial.
"But the government of India will assure that the vaccine will be made available to those who need it the most, irrespective of their paying capacity," he said. Enditem