The government has never spoken of inoculating the entire country as and when a vaccine for coronavirus is approved, heath secretary Rajesh Bhushan said on Tuesday. The government had earlier demarcated a priority list, which included around 1 crore healthcare professionals, police and armed forces personnel, people aged above 50 years in age and those below 50 with co-morbidities.
"The government has never spoken about vaccinating the entire country," Mr Bhushan said in response to a question at a press meet.
"I want to make it absolutely clear. I repeatedly say that before discussing the topics related to science, it would be good to know the factual information about it and then analyse it. So the vaccination of the whole country was never spoken of," he said, when asked by when the government would be able to vaccinate whole country.
Mr Bhushan's remarks came three days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the three key facilities that are working on a vaccine. The Prime Minister's office said the visit was meant to help him get a "first-hand perspective of the preparations, challenges and roadmap in India's endeavour to vaccinate its citizens".
Mr Bhushan, at a press meet on Tuesday, clarified that the goal is to work towards a critical mass of vaccinated people that would break the chain of transmission.
Dr Balram Bhargava, the chief of Indian Council of Medical Research, the country's nodal organisaton for the battle against COVID-19, agreed. "If we are able to vaccinate critical mass of people and break the virus transmission, then we may not have to vaccinate the entire population".
In response to a question on whether people who contracted Covid will be vaccinated, Mr Bhushan said it is a matter of discussion across the world whether people who once contracted coronavirus and have antibodies, are going to need it.
The national expert group on vaccine administration headed by Dr VK Paul has given a mandate one of which mentions that it is not necessary to vaccine those with already formed antibodies, Mr Bhushan said.
"Many other nations are looking into whether they need to deliberate when one has already developed antibodies from a prior Covid infection before vaccinating him. Does he have enough antibodies? There has been no final decision on this. But this is a topic of discussion among scientific community and other nations," Mr Bhushan said.
The idea of herd immunity for Covid – infection of a critical number of people which breaks the chain of virus transmission -- has been discussed since the virus made its appearance last year. But so far, no country has reported such an event.
In India, the total number of people who contracted the virus so far is 94.62 lakh, which is below 1 per cent of the population.
But the ICMR's second national sero-survey has found that nearly seven per cent of India's population aged ten and above have been exposed to coronavirus by August. This amounts to an estimated 74.3 million people.
Sero survey in metros like Mumbai and Delhi has shown widely varied figures. A recent sero-survery conducted in Mumbai revealed that 75 per cent of the population has developed antibodies to the virus. In Delhi, the figure is one in four – or a quarter of the population.