Govt chalks out plan for storage of Covid-19 vaccine


With several experimental vaccines against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) reaching late-stage trials, the government has started making logistical arrangements for procurement, storage and distribution to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of a vaccine, when one becomes available

The Centre has begun identifying both government and private facilities to create hubs for vaccine storage. The focus is on maintaining cold storage as most vaccines require to be stored and distributed at a fixed temperature, failing which the vaccine becomes ineffective.

Under the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 that is chaired by Dr VK Paul, member (health), Niti Aayog, there are subgroups looking into various aspects of vaccine development, procurement and distribution, including one that looks at cold chain requirements.

“The subgroup has already mapped the existing cold chain that is presently being utilized under the immunisation programme of the government, and it has also made a projection of the additionality that will be required. Presently, that group is engaged with mapping the private sector facilities where with minor modifications they could be converted to serve the needs of supplementing the cold chain equipment. So, that is how things are currently developing,” said Rajesh Bhushan, Union health secretary.

Real-time tracking of vaccine movement- from procurement to storage, to delivery and distribution is being planned using the electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN) that is used for the immunisation programme. This cloud-based application tracks realtime stock positioning and supply route based on the information fed by ground staff.

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan recently announced that the government was looking at procuring and utilizing about 400-500 million vaccine doses, covering about 200-250 million people.

India has about 27,000 vaccine storage centres across all 700 plus districts that are connected through eVIN; with at least 50,000 temperature loggers to monitor storage temperatures as accurately as possible for at least 40,000 frontline workers to manage logistics.

“We already have a well-oiled machinery in place as far as vaccine delivery is concerned with a robust national immunisation programme running. That will be made use of for Covid-19 also. Apart from polio there are other vaccines needing cold storage like the measles vaccine. It won’t be a problem,” said Paul.

Experts said India has the capacity to handling the logistics.“I don’t see it as a problem as India already has a large-scale Universal Immunisation Programme running that can easily be made use of for Covid vaccine delivery also. A lot of logistical arrangements are currently being made in a well-coordinated manner that should see us through,” said Dr YK Gupta, former head, pharmacology department, and advisor, Translational Health Science & Technology Institute.

The pricing of each dose has not been fixed. “The price of single-dose or the price of two-dose vaccine, because most of the vaccines that are being worked across the globe are two-dose vaccines, is still evolving. And we have seen that in an extremely dynamic situation as the vaccines prove their safety and efficacy, and till the time they prove their safety and efficacy, whatever figure is being bandied around is just a figure. So, any indicative price for a single-dose or a double-dose vaccine becomes a plausible figure once the vaccine has been able to demonstrate its safety and efficacy. And once that is done by multiple vaccines, then the prices decline, and decline drastically. Therefore, at the present moment in time, we do not hazard a guess,” Bhushan said.

The health secretary reiterated that there were sufficient financial resources for vaccine procurement.

“We are parallelly making arrangements for putting in place procurement and distribution logistics of Covid-19 vaccine as and when it is available for use. We will be prepared to ensure it is delivered to all,” said Dr Paul.

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