India says ready to soon start voluntary COVID-19 vaccination

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A medic administers COVAXIN, an Indian government-backed experimental COVID-19 vaccine, to a health worker during its trials, at the Gujarat Medical Education & Research Society in Ahmedabad, India, November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File Photo

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s government said on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, it could soon start voluntary inoculation against the COVID-19 disease as it considers emergency use authorization for three vaccine candidates including those from AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

Indian company Bharat Biotech has also applied for emergency approval.

The country recorded 22,890 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, taking the total to near 10 million, with 144,789 deaths. It has the world’s second highest number of cases after the United States, though the gap between them is now widening as India is reporting fewer cases since a mid-September peak.

The government says it could take more than one year to administer two doses of vaccines – 28 days apart – to most of India’s 1.35 billion people.

“The government of India is geared to launch a vaccine for COVID-19 soon,” the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said in a public advisory.

“Vaccination for COVID-19 is voluntary. However, it is advisable to receive the complete schedule of COVID-19 vaccine.”

It also said that even those who have been infected by the virus should be vaccinated.

India plans to deploy its vast election machinery to deliver 600 million doses of the vaccines to the most vulnerable people in the next six to eight months through conventional cold chain systems, a government expert told Reuters last week.

The country already runs one of the largest immunization programs in the world, catering to more than 26 million newborns and 29 million pregnant women a year.

“The program mechanisms are being strengthened/geared up to effectively cater to the country’s large and diverse population,” the health ministry said.

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