Vaccine vials land in city, Serum moves 6.4m doses
Marking a milestone about 10 months after the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) gripped the country, India on Tuesday dispatched about 6.44 million doses of the Covishield vaccine to 14 cities from its manufacturer’s Pune headquarters, setting in motion a massive inoculation drive that will begin this weekend.
At 4:53am, three temperature-controlled trucks escorted by police vehicles left the Serum Institute of India (SII)’s building on the outskirts of Pune for the airport, carrying vials of the vaccine that, along with Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, has been okayed by the drug controller for restricted emergency use.
Pune deputy commissioner of police Namrata Patil, accompanied by SII staff, cracked open a coconut — believed to be auspicious — to flag off the vehicles that left the premises.
“Our trucks left the SII facility early morning and now the vaccine is being distributed in the entire country. This is a proud and historic moment as scientists, experts and all other stakeholders took great efforts while making this vaccine in less than a year,” said SII chief executive Adar Poonawalla, whose organisation is conducting clinical trials and manufacturing the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The first consignment of 264,000 doses of Covishield reached Delhi’s central storage facility at the Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital (RGSSH) in the afternoon around high security, according to officials aware of the developments.
Twenty-two boxes containing 1,200 vials each of the vaccine was brought to the hospital’s utility block that has been retrofitted with 90 deep freezers, which can store 4.1 million doses of the vaccine.
“Each of the vials (5 millilitres) contains 10 doses (0.5ml each) of the vaccine. So far, Delhi has received 264,000 vaccine doses that will be almost enough for the health care workers in the city,” said a senior government official who asked not to be named.
At the start of the vaccination drive beginning this Saturday, the central government plans to vaccinate 30 million health care and frontline workers (employees across government departments, the police and civic bodies). Next on the priority list are an estimated 270 million people (those above 50 years of age, and people with serious comorbidities such as diabetes and hypertension). This exercise, according to some estimates, could take at least seven months.
A SpiceJet flight carrying the vials landed at the Delhi airport around 10am. The Delhi Police formed a “green corridor” to safely transport the vaccines to the hospital, which received the consignment around 3pm.
“There are three levels of security that will be in place (in the hospital).There are CCTV cameras installed within and outside the building. There are hospital guards stationed at the vaccine store round the clock, and police personnel deployed outside the store,” said Dr Chhavi Gupta, a spokesperson for RGSSH.
In the national capital, the vaccination drive will be launched at 89 centres (49 private and 40 public health care facilities) that are part of the 5,000 sites approved by the Centre across the country. Delhi has pegged the number of health care workers at 300,000, of which around 225,000 have already been registered with the government.
“Delhi is fully prepared and all preparations are in place,” health minister Satyendar Jain said.
Apart from Delhi, vials of the vaccine were flown to Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar, Patna, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Chandigarh. On Tuesday, four airlines (Air India, IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir) operated nine flights to transport 5.47 million doses of the vaccine to these cities across the country.
Separately, Maharashtra minister Rajesh Tope said his state, too, received the first consignment of 963,000 doses by road and that the vaccine will be distributed among 511 camps covering all districts. “We have also developed 3,135 cold chains to be used for storing the vaccines,” he said in Mumbai.
The Indian government has procured 11 million doses of Covishield from SII — the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume — at a cost of ₹200 per dose, exclusive of taxes.
For Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin (it is still in Phase 3 trials), the number is 5.5 million doses, of which 1.65 million doses are being procured free of cost, and the remaining 3.85 million doses are being purchased at a cost of ₹295 per dose, exclusive of taxes, making the net cost of a Covaxin dose ₹206.
In case of both vaccines, recipients will get two doses four weeks apart and the effects will start showing 14 days after the second dose.
“The Centre is very closely collaborating with the states and Union Territories for rolling out the vaccination on January 16, 2021. Since different individuals will be discharging different duties they need to be trained as per the best of their ability,” Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said at a briefing.
The government has trained 2,360 master trainers, who in turn have trained 61,000 programme managers, 200,000 vaccinators and 370,000 other vaccination team members so far.
Health authorities in states have said they would make use of experience gained from running regular child immunisation programmes for polio to ensure full coverage in what they called the world’s biggest vaccination drive. “The vaccine is here even then that doesn’t take away the fact that people will still have to observe Covid-19 appropriate behaviour such wearing a mask, maintaining hand hygiene and ensuring physical distancing,” said Dr Balram Bhargava, director general of premier scientific body Indian Council of Medical Research.
As of Tuesday, India has reported 10,495,813 cases of the viral infection while 1,51,581 people have died in the country.
(With agency inputs)
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