Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Tuesday told Rajya Sabha that India will be the first country to develop a DNA-based Covid-19 vaccine even as other manufactures are steadily ramping up production.

“It is a matter of great pride for us that our scientists will be the first to develop a DNA vaccine,” the minister said, referring to Zydus Cadila, which has applied for emergency use authorisation of its DNA vaccine.

Mandaviya said while Serum Institute of India has begun providing 11-12 crore doses of Covishield vaccine every month, Biological E is conducting third-phase trial of its vaccine, which is expected to come in the market by September-October with 7.5 crore doses.

Responding to criticism from the Opposition that Covid deaths have been under-reported, Mandaviya said the Centre has no role in recording the figures. “Why would we hide it? States register cases and record deaths. Is there a reason for them to do hide? It is not like there is a penalty for rising cases or deaths,” he said.

On vaccine shortage in several states, Mandaviya said, “There are some states which currently have 15-20 lakh vaccine doses and are still asking the Centre to increase the pace of vaccination.”

Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Hardeep Puri criticised the Opposition for spreading vaccine hesitancy by questioning efficacy of vaccines developed in India. “Are they making a case for importing vaccines,” he asked.

BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta said the amount of relief the government has given to people was considerable.

Earlier, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said the government’s Covid-19 death toll figure of 4-5 lakh is “false” and conservative, and claimed that average number of deaths cannot be less than 52.4 lakh.

Kharge also accused the government of giving very little notice to people on lockdown. “Like demonetisation, the announcement was made by the PM at 8 pm — that no trains will run from the next day. The government has to take responsibility for the loss of livelihood and sufferings of migrant workers…”

Congress leader Anand Sharma said, “We must not quarrel over the numbers. We must not get into hairsplitting that I did this and you did that…. It is important for us reflect on the social and economic consequences, including black-marketing of life-saving drugs. How do we ensure that when the next wave comes we are prepared to tackle these issues?”

DMK’s Tiruchi Siva alleged that BJP-ruled state are getting more vaccine doses compared to Opposition states. “Why is there a disparity? Let it be uniform. If you are giving doses as per proportion of population, then Tamil Nadu should also get an equal share,” he said.

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