New Delhi, Feb 10: With just weeks remaining for the start of Covid vaccination for people above 50 years of age, the union government has still not decided whether this priority group will receive the doses free of cost on the lines of healthcare and frontline workers currently being immunised under a nationwide programme.

Dr VK Paul, member (health) NITI Aayog and Chairperson, National Task Force For Covid-19, told IANS on Wednesday that no decision regarding free vaccination to people above 50 years of age -- who fall in the third priority group of vaccination -- has been made by the Centre so far.

He added that meetings with state heads would follow soon to explore the possibility of free vaccination of the subset.

"We have already provided vaccines free to all the healthcare and frontline workers. For people above 50 years of age, meetings between the states and union would be conducted to discuss the sharing of expenditure. However, no decision has been made so far," Paul said while answering a query put by IANS during a virtual session.

The union government has prioritised 30 crore of Indian population to receive Covid vaccines. The government has divided this vast range into three groups which include 1 crore of healthcare workers, 2 crore of frontline workers and remaining 27 crores of general population who are above 50 years of age and more susceptible to be exposed to the Covid-19.

The government is providing free vaccines to health care and frontline workers who constitute 3 crore of the total population of the country.

Meanwhile, Paul also explained why the government prioritised people above 50 years of age to receive Covid vaccines. He shared that of the total fatalities caused by Covid, 78% were those who aged above 50 years.

"Once you reach the age of 50, you are vulnerable to develop 70% of the underlying medical conditions (diabetes, hypertension etc) and become more vulnerable to any kind of viral infection," Paul said.

"Since Covid-19 is also a viral disease and data suggests it brings more damage to people above 50 (years) and with co-morbidities, we took a public health approach and decided to prioritise this population fraction along with our Covid warriors,'" he explained.

Asked whether the remaining population would also be prioritised, Paul said that an evaluation post immunisation of all the priority groups would be done to decide further. "Things like stockpiling of vaccines would be evaluated to account if people need further vaccinations and how," Paul added.