Setting the pace for vaccine rollout next week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a virtual meeting with all chief ministers on Monday. The Prime Minister’s Office has confirmed that the meeting is being held to discuss the Covid-19 situation and vaccination rollout.
The government is in the final stages of due diligence to ink a supply deal with Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, which have got approval for emergency use of their vaccines. Health minister Harsh Vardhan has assured states that the vaccination exercise will begin in the next few days.
“We started the preparations almost four to five months back to ensure that in a country as vast as India everything is done smoothly and meticulously,” Vardhan said while addressing the media at government General Hospital, Chennai, on the ongoing dry run of administering the coronavirus vaccine.
The second nationwide mock drill on the vaccination was held on Friday at three session sites of 736 districts across 33 states and union territories.
To ensure processes are in place for the mega inoculation drive, aviation regulator DGCA too issued guidelines to all aircraft operators that plan to transport Covid-19 vaccines packed in dry ice to various parts of the country. “All operators, while engaging in the transportation of Covid-19 vaccines packed with dry ice, shall establish the maximum quantity of dry ice that can be loaded in a given cargo hold or in the main deck (passenger cabin) when a passenger version is deployed for all-cargo operations,” the Directorate General of Civil Aviation noted.
Dry ice transforms into carbon dioxide gas at temperatures higher than -78 degrees Celsius under normal atmospheric pressure and therefore it is classified as “dangerous goods” by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), it said.
Meanwhile, manufacturers have said they are waiting for guidance from the Centre on how many doses need to be shipped to which location. “We are in the business of vaccine movement for years and already have our partners in place for air-freight and also land route in refrigerated trucks,” said one vaccine maker without divulging further details. It is learnt that as many as 100 million doses may be picked up from Pune-based Serum Institute, which is manufacturing Covishield — a vaccine developed by University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. However, the initial volumes supplied to the Centre by Serum Institute could be in the range of 20-30 million doses.
Sources said that the government is negotiating on price with Serum Institute and that its competitor Bharat Biotech may price its candidate Covaxin lower. Of the 100 million doses almost ready with the Pune-based Serum Institute, some of that would be used to meet its international commitments. The international shipments are likely to start moving around March.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute, has said the price of Covishield would be Rs 200 per dose for the first 100 million doses supplied to the government. By March, Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech too may have efficacy data from its phase 3 trials. It completed recruitment for the trials on Thursday. Bharat Biotech has 10 million doses of Covaxin ready and can have another 10 million in the next few weeks. It can, therefore, supply 20 million doses to the government at the moment for its vaccine which got restricted use approval in clinical trial mode.
Both the vaccines can be stored in 2-8 degree Celsius temperature. The shelf life of Covishield is six months. One pack of Covishield contains 10 doses of 5 ml each and once opened the vaccine has to be used in six hours.
In a recent meeting with the Health Minister, states pointed out several glitches they had faced during the dry run — Chhattisgarh pointed at network issues in tribal belts, while Telangana said it faced software problems. For Jammu and Kashmir, the concern has been that 2G connection available there made it difficult to use the Co-Win platform, which is driving the vaccination exercise.
(With inputs from Arindam Majumder)