By Nidhi Verma
NEW DELHI, Jan 9 (Reuters) - India will start its COVID-19 vaccination drive from Jan. 16 with priority given to about 30 million healthcare and frontline workers, a government statement said on Saturday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the preparedness for COVID-19 vaccination programme on Saturday, it said. India hopes to inoculate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people free of charge in the first six to eight months of this year.
With the highest number of infections in the world after the United States, India is developing two indigenous COVID-19 vaccines. On Saturday it reported 18,222 new coronavirus cases, taking the total to 10.43 million.
India's drug regulator has approved two coronavirus vaccines for emergency use, Covishield, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and Covaxin by local company Bharat Biotech and a state-run institute.
After healthcare and frontline workers, the vaccines will be given to "those above 50 years of age and the under-50 population groups with co-morbidities, numbering around 2.7 million," the statement said.
The statement did not say whether the federal government had signed purchase deals with Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India, the local manufacturer of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Modi also reviewed India's Co-WIN Vaccine Delivery Management System - a digital platform that will provide real time information of vaccine stocks, storage temperature and tracking of beneficiaries, the statement said.
India is the world's biggest vaccine maker. Its pharmaceutical industry has been freeing up capacity and pushing ahead with investments to help support a global vaccination campaign.
Earlier in the day Modi said India would continue to export medicines, including vaccines, as companies have ramped up production.
"The world is not only waiting for India's vaccines but is also keenly watching how India handles the world's biggest vaccination program," Modi said in an annual address to Indians overseas.
(Reporting by Nidhi Verma Editing by Ros Russell)
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