India will begin inoculating its 1.3 billion population against coronavirus starting January 16, in one of the world’s massive rollouts. The first phase of this daunting and complex task will cover 30 million frontline and health workers.
This will be followed by the vaccination of 270 million people above 50 years of age and the under-50 population groups with co-morbidities or with high risk of infection. The aim is to vaccinate 300 million, equal almost to the entire US population, by July. This will be an unprecedented scale of immunisation.
From developing, manufacturing to becoming a key supplier, India will play a crucial role in the global immunisation programme with two “Made in India” vaccines—Covaxin and Covishield.
Covaxin, India’s first indigenous vaccine against Covid 19, is manufactured by the Hyderabad-based pharma company Bharat Biotech. The second, Covishield, was developed jointly by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, and is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), Pune.
Speaking about the vaccines, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “India is ready to save humanity with two indigenous coronavirus vaccines”. These two vaccines were recently granted “emergency approval” by the Drugs Controller General of India. The approved vaccines are highly cost-effective in comparison to other vaccines from across the world.
For the mammoth inoculation endeavour, around 150,000 staff in 700 districts have been specially trained. The Central government has been carrying out the activities in close collaboration with all the States, Union Territories and stakeholders.
To test the country’s preparedness, several national dry runs involving mock transportation of vaccines and dummy injections were conducted across 737 districts in 33 States and Union Territories. The dry runs were aimed at testing the laid-out mechanisms for Covid-19 vaccination roll-out in the health system.
The drill was also to assess the operational feasibility of using the “Co-WIN” software application (app) in a field environment for planning, implementation, and reporting at the block, district, and state level. The robust and dependable technology of Co-WIN app will form both the foundation and the back-up for the nationwide immunisation exercise. It will form the backbone of the last-mile vaccine administration.
The government has readied 29,000 cold-chain points, 240 walk-in coolers, 70 walk-in freezers, 45,000 ice-lined refrigerators, 41,000 deep freezers and 300 solar refrigerators. It has set up four “mega depots” to take delivery of the vaccines and transport them to state distribution hubs in temperature-controlled vans.
India has taken the lead on coronavirus vaccines after it took the initiative, last year, on Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to treat the disease. India is no stranger to large-scale vaccination campaigns. It will use its experience and expertise from holding elections across the nation and from regular child immunisation programmes for polio and tuberculosis.
India used to import Personal Protection Equipmnt (PPE) kits, masks, ventilators and Covid-19testing kits from outside. Today, the world is waiting for Indian vaccines against the coronavirus. It is all set to deploy its capacities in vaccine production and supply. India may become the Covid vaccine hub as many nations have sought millions of ‘Made in India’ doses. Several countries have requested India either on a government-to-government basis or by directly placing orders with the vaccine developers who are manufacturing the doses.
India will send limited supplies to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Besides the neighbours-Brazil, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa have made official announcements seeking vaccines from India. From the beginning, New Delhi has been at the forefront of the global response in the common fight against the coronavirus pandemic. It sees international cooperation in this field, particularly with its neighbours, as its duty.
Globally, India supplies more vaccines by volume than any other nation. It would also contribute to protecting people in 91 other countries by making more than one billion doses available to the “Gavi” COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC). By playing a pivotal role in the production and equitable supply of Covid vaccines across the globe, India aims to bring the corona crisis to an end.
Script: K V Venkatasubramanian, Senior Journalist