The Congress today raised issues concerning the availability of a prospective COVID-19 vaccine at the grassroots level in the country with party leader Rahul Gandhi asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to clarify when every Indian will get it.
The Congress also asked what would happen to the BJP's poll promise in Bihar of providing the coronavirus vaccine free of cost to every person in the state.
"In today's all-party meeting, we hope the PM clarifies when will every Indian get a free Covid vaccine," Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter ahead of the all-party meeting chaired by the Prime Minister to discuss the COVID-19 situation.
At the virtual all-party meeting, to which floor leaders of various parties in Parliament were invited by the government, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said COVID-like pandemics can pose a threat to the country's internal security and policy makers should address this challenge.
The senior Congress leader while addressing the meeting said the country should be well placed to get vaccines at affordable prices and at an early stage and distribute them up to the grassroots level.
Prime Minister Modi said at the meeting that experts believe the wait for a COVID-19 vaccine will not be long and it may be ready in a few weeks, asserting that the vaccination drive in India will begin as soon as scientists give the nod.
PM Modi said healthcare workers involved in treating COVID-19 patients, frontline workers including police personnel and municipal staff, and old people suffering from serious conditions would be inoculated on priority.
Noting that there have been questions about the price of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Prime Minister said it was natural to have such queries and asserted that public health will be accorded top priority in the matter and the states will be fully involved.
PM Modi sought to address the most significant aspects of the issue -- ranging from India's vaccine readiness to its pricing -- and reiterated that in tackling the pandemic the country has done better than even some developed countries and those with better health infrastructure.
Taking a swipe at the PM, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said he has an "obscene sense of priorities" as he was going ahead with spending on the central vista project.
"The PM says that the Centre is in talks with states over the price of vaccines, while he splurges crores and crores on personal vanity projects like new Parliament and Central Vista. Obscene sense of priorities! What happened to the BJP's Bihar manifesto promise of free vaccines," he said on Twitter.
The PM says that the Centre is in talks with states over the price of vaccines, while he splurges crores and crores on personal vanity projects like new Parliament and Central Vista. Obscene sense of priorities! What happened to the BJP's Bihar manifesto promise of free vaccines?— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) December 4, 2020
Mr Azad at the meeting also said: "COVID-like pandemics can be one of the greatest threats to the internal security of any country. In the future, policy makers at the national level should include COVID-like pandemics as a threat to internal security, besides external threats and internal insurgencies, if any".
Expressing hope that the country's pharma manufacturers in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) will get the final nod from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) for a COVID-19 vaccine soon, he said mechanisms for delivery of vaccine at the grassroots level should be ready.
"Considering the challenges due to the population and size of the country, we should be well placed to get vaccines at an affordable price and at an early stage," he said.
Scientists, policy makers and political leaders must work together to set parameters for vaccine prioritisation and distribution, said Mr Azad, a former Union health minister.
The government must prepare for building capacities for vaccine availability up to the district, community and primary health care levels, the Congress leader said.
"We are hopeful that a vaccine will be introduced shortly," he said. "I am sure by January, our pharmaceutical manufacturers in collaboration with the ICMR will get a final nod from the DCGI," he said.
He also asked the government to deal with issues of storage, distribution, number of dosages, eligibility and side effects of the vaccine.
The Congress leader called for putting in place a vaccine safety monitoring mechanism in place to assess the adverse events after immunisation.
"There could be adverse effects or side effects or even long term after effects which may need time to be identified and which are not discovered in Phase I, II or phase III clinical trials. India has to be more cautious since we have a large and young population and the government should rigorously monitor the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine," he said.
This was the second time that the government convened an all-party meeting to discuss the pandemic situation in the country.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)