As 16 January, the scheduled date of India’s COVID-19 inoculation drive draws near, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said the vaccines approved by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) are the “most cost-effective in the world”.

This, as the Centre placed an order for 11 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The order was placed at the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is a partner in the manufacture of the vaccine ‘Covishield’.

The vaccine costs Rs 210 per dose, PTI reported.

The Union health ministry also said that the number of people who have tested positive for the new UK variant of COVID-19 has climbed to 96 on Monday. Till Saturday, that number was 90.

The country also recorded the lowest daily spike in cases and deaths in nearly eight months, the Union health ministry said on Monday. The total caseload rose to 1,04,66,595 with 16,311 new cases in the last 24 hours, which is the lowest in around six and a half months. Additionally, the total toll rose to 1,51,160 with 161 new deaths, which is the lowest in the last seven and half months, the data updated at 8 am showed.

Meanwhile, UK’s chief medical officer (CMO) Chris Whitty was in the media as saying that the UK will go through the “most dangerous time” as it enters the worst weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. A new strain of the virus was detected in Britain in December and is reportedly 70 percent more transmissible.

‘Centre to bear expense of inoculation of 3 crore people’

After his discussion with chief ministers of all states, Modi announced that the Centre will bear the expenses of vaccinating nearly three crore healthcare and frontline workers in the first round of inoculation.

Interacting with state chief ministers, Modi underscored the enormity of what he described as the world’s biggest vaccination exercise, which begins from 16 January, saying over 30 crore citizens will get the jabs in the next few months in India against only 2.5 crore people vaccinated so far in over 50 countries in around a month.

The two already approved made-in-India COVID-19 vaccines are more cost-effective than any other in the world and have been developed as per the country’s needs, he said at the meeting held over video conference to discuss the COVID-19 situation and the vaccination roll-out.

Besides the two vaccines — Covishield developed by Oxford and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and manufactured by Serum Institute of India, and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin  — four others are in the pipeline, Modi said, asserting that India’s fight against the pandemic will enter a decisive stage with the vaccination roll-out.

The prime minister also sought to dispel concerns expressed by some Opposition leaders and experts over the approval given to Covaxin without the availability of efficacy data, asserting that scientists have taken all precautions to provide citizens with effective vaccines.

Centre places order for 11 mn doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

After the Centre placed an order for 11 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Covishield, officials were quoted by PTI as saying that the dispatch of of the vaccine is likely to start by late Monday evening.

The health ministry is also likely to soon sign a purchase order for Covaxin, another anti-coronavirus vaccine that has been indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech, PTI reported.

Covishield vaccine doses will be initially shipped to 60 consignee points from where those will be distributed to various vaccination centres across India. As many as 2,54,500 doses of Covishield are set to be delivered at Delhi’s central storage, Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality hospital, in Tahirpur.

The HLL Lifecare Limited, a public sector undertaking, issued the supply order on behalf of the Union health ministry in the name of Prakash Kumar Singh, additional director, Government and Regulatory Affairs at Serum Institute of India.

“The Ministry of Health has nominated HLL Lifecare Limited vide letter dated 11 January as procuring agency for procurement of vaccine. For the purpose of this order, the Ministry of Health, Government of India is the ‘purchaser’ and HLL Lifecare Limited (HLL) is ‘procuring agency’,” the order said.

Vaccine-laden trucks will travel from Manjari in Pune, where SII is located, amid elaborate police security. The Maharashtra government has decided to provide police security to the trucks carrying the vaccine up to airports and to the borders of the state.

According to the health ministry, two doses of the vaccine need to be taken by an individual 28 days apart to complete the immunisation schedule. Protective levels of antibodies are generally developed two weeks after receiving the second dose, it has said.

Number of new COVID-19 deaths below 170 after 229 days

A declining number of new COVID-19 cases and a high rate of recovery have resulted in a continuous fall in the country’s active caseload, which accounts for only 2.13 percent of the total infections, the health ministry said on Monday.

The number of daily new fatalities has also declined substantially in the country. On Monday, less than 170 such deaths were recorded after 229 days, the ministry said.

India’s total active caseload has fallen to 2.25 lakh.

A total of 16,959 COVID-19 patients have recovered in a span of 24 hours. This has led to a net decline of 809 from the active caseload, the ministry said. The total number of recovered cases in the country stands at 1,00,92,909.

“The gap between recoveries and active cases, that is steadily increasing, is nearing 99 lakh and presently stands at 98,70,383,” the ministry said.

“The national COVID-19 recovery rate has also improved to 96.43 percent as on date. This is amongst the highest the world over,” it highlighted.

Ten states and Union territories have accounted for 78.56 percent of the new recoveries. Kerala has reported the maximum number of 4,659 single-day recoveries, followed by Maharashtra (2,302) and Chhattisgarh (962).

The ministry said 80.25 percent of the new cases are concentrated in nine states and Union territories. Kerala has also reported the highest number of 4,545 fresh cases, followed by Maharashtra (3,558).

A total of 161 case fatalities were reported in the country in a span of 24 hours. Six states and Union territories have accounted for 69.57 per cent of the fresh deaths.

Maharashtra (34) saw the maximum number of casualties, followed by Kerala (23) and West Bengal (19).

‘UK at worst point of COVID-19 pandemic’

Whitty, England’s chief medical officer (CMO), also urged the public to strictly follow the stay-at-home lockdown to help curb the transmission of infections. He added that the only way to help an already overwhelmed National Health Service (NHS) is to minimise all unnecessary contact with other people while the vaccination programme is accelerated in parallel.

“I think everybody accepts that this is the most dangerous time we’ve really had in terms of numbers into the NHS. The next few weeks will be the worst of the pandemic for the NHS,” Prof Whitty told the BBC.

“This is everybody’s problem. Any single unnecessary contact you have with someone is a potential link in a chain of transmission that will lead to a vulnerable person,” he said.

He said there were over 30,000 people in England hospitals with COVID-19, compared to about 18,000 at the peak last April. He added that “anybody who is not shocked” by the number of people in the hospital “has not understood this at all”.

“This is an appalling situation,” he said, pointing to the more than 80,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic and an estimated one in 50 people infected in the UK.

His latest warning comes as the UK’s new mass vaccination centres opened their doors to vulnerable categories, with eligible over-80 individuals being informed by letters from the NHS.

With inputs from PTI

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