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EXPERT PANEL TO OVERSEE COVID VACCINE

An expert panel to oversee all aspects of its Covid-19 vaccine plan is likely to be led by Niti Aayog’s Dr VK Paul and co-chaired by health secretary Rajesh Bhushan. It will pick the vaccine or vaccines that India can use, plan the finances for what is sure to be an expensive purchase running into billions of dollars, and prioritise the sequence of administration.

In the absence of a vaccine or a cure, the only way to slow the spread of Covid-19 has been wearing masks, social distancing, and restricting regular activities — things that have taken a toll on life and work.

The high-level panel, formed by the cabinet secretary on Friday, includes AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria, representatives of the ministries of external affairs, biotechnology, information technology, the Director General of Health services, India’s Aids Research Institute, the Indian Council of Medical Research, and also representatives from states.

Coronavirus, Doctor

The panel’s task starts with identifying the vaccine, or vaccines. Countries such as the US and the UK are spreading their risks, striking deals with multiple vaccine makers who are ahead in the race to develop a vaccine.

It will then decide how the vaccines should be procured—whether foreign agencies should be involved or whether state governments will be allowed to procure on their own or if there should be a central procuring system directly under the supervision of the central government.

The group will also draft a financial plan, prepare a budget and discuss how many can be raised for the mammoth exercise of procurement, distribution, and administration. Finally, the panel will prepare a strategy on inventory management, distribution, and administration. Many of these issues have been discussed over the past month across ministries and institutions.

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The authorities are carefully watching the development of at least nine vaccines, including at least two Chinese ones, and hoping that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, being made in India by the Adar Poonawalla-led Serum Institute of India, works. That, though is a second-generation problem. India first needs to identify a vaccine and procure enough doses of it.

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