People may have a choice of three or four coronavirus vaccines in a few weeks, and pick which one to take with the government expanding the inoculation drive and allowing beneficiaries to choose their vaccination centres from Monday, chief of Delhi's premier All India Institutes of Medical Sciences has told NDTV.
"In a few weeks from now, we may have three or four vaccines. You can't have all of them available in one centre. One centre will be giving only one vaccine. But it is likely that in your area you may have more than one vaccine provided in different private hospitals and therefore it may indirectly give you some choice because you would know which vaccine is being given at which centre. But you can't go to a site and ask for one vaccine or the other," Dr Randeep Guleria told NDTV on Saturday.
The AIIMS chief said India needed to urgently ramp up vaccination with cases rising in six states.
"If we look at the number of people we have vaccinated, it's large but if we look at it on a percentage basis, it's very low because of the population of our country and therefore we have to look at a strategy where we can increase it exponentially. I think that is what is going to happen if we open it up to the private sector," he said.
"If we can vaccinate a large number of people, we will not only be able to bring down the cases but in those who are most susceptible, bring down the hospitalisation and death rate," Dr Guleria said.
"When we started testing, it was first only done in government facilities but with increasing need, the government capped the price and allowed private labs in testing. Similarly, the vaccine is being rolled out. It is being made sure that it is done judiciously. Those who really need to be vaccinated, are vaccinated. The cost has been capped so that it is affordable," he added.
The government on Saturday said that coronavirus vaccines will be capped at Rs 250 per shot at private hospitals and will be free in all government hospitals and centres when the campaign expands Monday to cover those over 60 and those over 45 with illnesses.
The inoculation campaign that began on January 16 has progressed slower than expected due to a reluctance of health and front-line workers to take the home-grown COVAXIN shot that was approved without late-stage efficacy data.
Only 11 per cent of vaccinated people have opted for the product developed by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, according to news agency Reuters.
With the world's highest tally of infections after the United States, India wants to vaccinate 30 of its 135 crore people by August. The decision to give people a choice to choose centres, effectively being allowed to choose vaccines could speed up the roll-out, officials believe.
Among the vaccines likely to be approved for use in the country are Russia's Sputnik-V and Cadila Healthcare's ZyCov-D.