From Reaching Factory To Syringe: How India Is Gearing Up For Covid-19 Vaccine Drive

India will be confronting its single biggest public health challenge as it prepares to launch the largest-ever mass immunization drive, to vaccinate 1.3 billion people.

Reuters photo used for representation

Laying out a “realistic” roadmap of Covid-19 vaccine distribution, Indian officials are planning the biggest vaccination campaign in the country’s history.

India will be confronting its single biggest public health challenge as it prepares to launch the largest-ever mass immunization drive, to vaccinate 1.3 billion people.

The government has indicated that it would be procuring 400-500 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by July 2021. Analysts estimate that it will take a minimum spend of Rs 50,000 crore to sufficiently vaccinate the entire country.

There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Covid-19 vaccine development globally, and at least 3 vaccine candidates are in critical stages of development and testing in India, which will pave way for faster access to an approved vaccine in the coming year.

Vaccinating 1.3 billion people requires extraordinary communication, planning, and coordination.

India hopes to roll out the vaccine by March 2021, health secretary Rajesh Bhushan told Bloomberg in an interview on Monday, even though experts pointed out that India faces a big challenge in cold chain and distribution infrastructure. The Central government started preparing a road map for developing infrastructure for vaccine distribution across the country in August.

Who will get the first priority? 

As for the emergency doses which are being readied for administration, the first priority will be given to healthcare workers across India and the public, for which, authorities are preparing phased roll-out.

According To The Indian Express report, top government sources said that one crore frontline healthcare workers have been identified to receive the first dose of whichever vaccine is available against the novel coronavirus infection early next year.

Dr. V K Paul, member, NITI Aayog, and Rajesh Bhushan, Union Health Secretary, both of whom co-chair the expert group, are expected to make a detailed presentation of a database on healthcare and frontline workers, senior officials confirmed.

According to a government source, “Ninety-two percent of all government hospitals across all states have provided data. Around 56 percent of private-sector hospitals have provided data.”

For the largest immunization, the backend preparation comes at a time when the Centre expects to receive and utilize 400-500 million doses and cover approximately 20-25 crore people by July 2021.

On their part, states are also gearing up for administering the Covid-19 vaccine and are preparing a database of all frontline workers, who would get the vaccine dose in the first phase.

The sources said state governments have also provided “granular” details on frontline healthcare workers under different categories which include nurses, ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers, allopathic doctors, AYUSH doctors, etc.

Some states, such as Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Bihar, have already announced that the vaccine will be provided free of cost.

Students of medicine and nursing students and faculty members will also be involved in the training and implementation of the immunization program.

Cold Chain Logistics Challenge for Virus Vaccination

To provide safe delivery the government has also asked officials to complete all preparations for the prospective Covid-19 vaccination drive, including “robust cold-chain maintenance set-up” in states.

“From the existing 28,000 cold storage points, we have added 1,000 more points within the government facility itself. We are also procuring additional walk-in coolers, walk-in fridges, and deep freezers,” sources said.

Sunil Nair, chief executive officer at Snowman Logistics Ltd, one of the largest manufacturers of cold chain equipment in the country told BloombergQuint. “With the current immunization program of the government, only 20-25% of the overall volume can be distributed.”

Over the last month, the Prime Minister has been holding various meetings to check on the preparations for vaccine administration and distribution.

According to government data, India’s government-run national immunization program currently targets 26.7 million newborns and 29 million pregnant women every year.

While the existing cold chain is funded and managed through public finances but to meet the needs of a vaccination program for the entire population the government needs some private players to rely on.

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