A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020. REUTERS/File Photo(REUTERS)
A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020. REUTERS/File Photo(REUTERS)

India begins talks with Luxembourg firm on cold chain for Covid vaccine

Luxembourg-headquartered B Medical Systems will set up a specialised refrigerated vaccine transportation plant in Gujarat
By Shishir Gupta | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON DEC 04, 2020 03:53 PM IST

Two top officials of the Luxembourg-headquartered B Medical Systems will arrive in New Delhi over the weekend to initiate talks with senior government officials, scientists and diplomats on setting up a cold chain for Covid-19 vaccines in the country. The firm is looking at setting up a plant in the country with its Indian partners to supply specialised refrigerated vaccine transportation boxes and freezers.

The cold chain is counted among the biggest challenges in the logistics of reaching the coronavirus vaccine to people across the country.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shots, the first vaccine cleared for use by any government, need to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) or below. Moderna’s vaccine has to be kept at minus 20 degrees Celsius for shipping and longer-term storage of up to six months, but it can be kept at regular refrigeration temperatures for up to 10 days, according to a Reuters report.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has indicated that India may not go for the Pfizer vaccine but will wait a few weeks more for one that is made in the country. “The world is looking at a cheap but effective vaccine against Covid-19. The world is looking at India,” he said.

Officials said price is one factor. Another is the logistics of delivery. PM Modi told the all party meeting that the government was looking into the storage and transportation logistics of the vaccine.

Officials said the logistics challenge of the vaccine had figured in PM Modi’s conversation with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel last month who offered help to set up a vaccine cold chain via B Medical Systems.

B Medical Systems chief executive officer Luc Provost and deputy chief executive officer Jesal Doshi are arriving in the country on Saturday and will hold meetings with top officials of NITI Aayog and the ministries of health and external affairs over the next two days beginning Sunday.

They will then travel to Hyderabad, Pune and Ahmedabad for meetings with the three companies that are working on India’s top candidates for the Covid vaccine; Hyderabad’s Bharat Biotech and Pune’s Serum Institute of India and Ahmedabad’s Zydus Biotech Park.

B Medical Systems, which has the technology to store vaccines at minus 80 degree Celsius, intends to eventually build a plant in Gujarat. But this will take time and in the interim, the company is expected to import boxes that can be used to transport vaccines as soon as production starts.

In September, the company website says, it had partnered with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to donate equipment for the storage of critical Covid-19 vaccines to a Mumbai hospital where clinical trials were being conducted.

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