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Former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda on Friday suggested that the cost of the COVID-19 vaccine be kept affordable and that the government should even consider offering it free of cost for the economically vulnerable sections. The JD(S) supremo made this suggestion at an all-party meeting with leaders of various political outfits and top union ministers, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic situation in the country, his office said in a statement.

Stating that the period between now and the administering of vaccines should be treated with great care to ensure that the number of COVID-19 cases do not spiral out of control and further pressurise the healthcare system, he said hopes of a vaccine cannot be the basis to throw caution to the wind.

The transport and storage of vaccines would pose a major challenge, he said, adding that it would be best for the government to announce a high-level team to coordinate the vaccination efforts.

"This team should directly report to the PMO, and also engage in creating a network of medical and paramedical volunteers at the panchayat level, our basic governance unit," he added.

Gowda is a member of the Rajya Sabha representing Karnataka. Noting that long-term storage of vaccines is possible only through cold storage facilities, Gowda said the Prime Minister should pass on this challenge to the IITs.

"They should tell us how to convert any room into a cold storage facility with an inexpensive assembly unit," he said.

Floor leaders from all parties in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were invited to attend the virtual meeting. This was the second all-party meeting called by the government to discuss the COVID-19 situation since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

According to the former PM's office, Gowda also sought to know whether the Centre would bear the cost of the vaccination programme or state governments would have to share the cost.

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