The nationwide Covid vaccination rollout will begin on January 16, with an estimated 3 crore healthcare workers and frontline workers identified to get the jab in the initial phase. They will be followed by those above 50 years of age and those under-50 with co-morbidities. And for the vaccine distribution effort, an unprecedented official machinery is being cranked up.
India has recorded the second-highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world, after the US.Since the pandemic began it has confirmed more than 10.3 million cases and nearly 150,000 deaths.
The country’s drugs regulator has given the green light to two vaccines – one developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University (Covishield) and one by Indian firm Bharat Biotech (Covaxin), India’s first domestic pharmacy to get nod for vaccine distribution in India, with more than 1.3 billion people.
The Drug Controller General of India has approved the company’s application to conduct a Phase I and II clinical trial of Covaxin, which was developed along with the Indian Council of Medical Research’s National Institute of Virology, the company said in a statement on Monday.
Bharat Biotech, which makes the vaccine in partnership with ICMR, said it found that the “serious adverse reaction” was “not related to vaccine or placebo”.
January 16 has been chosen as the launch date for Covid-19 vaccination since it falls after the festivals of lohri, makarsankranti, maghbihu and pongal. The government didn’t say why festivals were a factor in choosing the date.
The effort: 20 central government ministries, including the Railways, Power, Defence and Civil Aviation, among others, are being used to roll out the vaccination programme which will initially target 30 crore healthcare and frontline workers, along with the high-risk population.
The roles: Each ministry has a specific role — Railways will conduct vaccination sessions at its hospitals and other premises, apart from doing their brand promotion on its tickets; Power to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply at vaccine storage facilities and vaccination sites; Defence to ensure supply of vaccines in remote and inaccessible areas; IT to utilise its village-level Common Service Centres for vaccination registrations and ensure telecom companies send SMS and voice messages on vaccination; and Civil Aviation to ensure proper transportation logistics, including temperature regulation.
State level: State PWDs are being tasked with the logistics such as identification of vaccination centres and supply of drinking water while state police forces will provide security to vaccine consignments and ensure crowd management at vaccination centres. State education departments will launch an awareness campaign to explain why children aren’t being inoculated in the first phase while the Panchayat level apparatus will be used for registration of healthcare workers.
The challenges: A shortage of vaccine supply in the first phase itself, admitted to by Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla — whose company’s vaccine, Covishield, will be the first to roll out — who said the shortage of vaccine will be felt for the first six months of 2021 after which it will ease off. Low internet penetration along with the mandatory requirement of pre-registration — no on-the-spot registrations allowed — for vaccination, lack of cold chain facilities coupled with their uneven spread and vaccine hesitancy are some of the challenges India’s vaccination drive will encounter.
P Chidambaram writes on the pandemic, vaccine and controversy: “There was, I suspect, a tinge of business between the SII and Bharat Biotech. Happily, both Mr Adar Poonawalla and Mr Krishna Ella buried the hatchet in a couple of days and promised to cooperate and work together. That is the way frontline companies, especially in research and development, should conduct their affairs, with a right mix of public good and private profit.”
(Picture Courtesy: Bloomberg News)