As India gears up to launch the world's largest immunization drive, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Saturday said that one crore healthcare workers and two crore frontline workers would be given free vaccine in the first phase of the inoculation drive.

"In the first phase of vaccination, free vaccine will be provided across the nation to most prioritised beneficiaries that include one crore healthcare and 2 crore frontline workers," Vardhan said in a tweet.

He, however, added, that the details of how the remaining 27 crore priority beneficiaries will be vaccinated till July is getting finalised.

Earlier in the day, the Health Minister had said that the vaccine will be free across the country. The minister made the statement while talking to the media after reviewing the dry run of administering the COVID-19 vaccine at the Maternity & Child Welfare (MCW) Centre in Daryaganj. Asked if the COVID-19 vaccine will be provided free of cost, like in Delhi, Vardhan replied that "not just in Delhi, it will be free across the country."

The comment is significant, given the fact that India has recorded the second-highest number of corona infections after the United States.

Vardhan also reviewed the dry run of administering the COVID-19 vaccine at Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) hospital in Delhi today. Except for giving an actual vaccine, every procedure is being followed during the drill, Vardhan further said.

The central government plans to vaccinate nearly 30 crore persons in the first phase of the immunisation drive. The vaccine will be administered to one crore healthcare workers, along with 2 crore frontline and essential workers, and 27 crore elderly, mostly above the age of 50 with comorbidities.

Notably, the coronavirus vaccine is slated to be rolled out soon as the one developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca has been recommended by an expert panel, tasked with vetting Covid-19 vaccine proposals, and forwarded to the Drug Controller General of India for approval.

The dry run will be conducted by all the states and Union Territories from Saturday. Vaccination drill is being conducted in all states/UTs today in 116 districts across 259 sites.

According to the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW), the objective of the dry run for COVID-19 vaccine introduction is to "assess operational feasibility in the use of COVID Vaccine Intelligence Network (Co-WIN) application in a field environment, to test the linkages between planning and implementation and to identify the challenges and guide the way forward prior to actual implementation".

(With agency inputs)

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