By Ashok B Sharma
India has planned rollout of COVID vaccines first with a dry run in two districts each in states like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Punjab considering the geographical locations. The Union government has already consulted with these states for the locations of the dry run. Each state will plan it in two districts and preferably in five different session type settings – district hospital, CHC/PHC, urban site, private health facility, rural outreach etc, according to the press release issued by the Union health ministry.
It further said “to strengthen the capacity of our human resource for COVID-19 vaccine introduction and roll-out, detailed training modules have been developed for different categories of vaccine handlers and administrators including medical officers, vaccinators, alternate vaccinators, cold chain handlers, supervisors, data managers, ASHA coordinators (ASHA is a non-governmental organization) and all others involved in the implementation process at different levels.”
According to the Union health ministry, six vaccine candidates are in various stages of the clinical trials in the country namely – Covishield, Covaxin, ZyCoV-D, Sputnik V, NVX-CoV2373 and a recombinant protein antigen-based vaccine.
The National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration of COVID-19 (NEGVAC) has recommended three prioritized population groups including about one crore healthcare workers, about two crore frontline workers and about 27 crore prioritised age group.
The government feels that as vaccines are temperature sensitive and need to be stored in specific temperature, the present cold chain system consisting of 85,634 equipments for storage of vaccine at about 28,947 cold chain points across the country will be used for the cold chain administration.
The current cold chain is capable of storing additional quantity of COVID-19 vaccine required for the first three crore prioritized population – healthcare workers and front line workers.
The current storage capacity for vaccines is not enough to take care of the country’s population. Storage and transportation of vaccines are vital for the fight against COVID. The world had been since long waiting for a vaccine to fight the COVID war. Now several vaccines are being developed by different companies around the world. They are in different stages of clinical trials. Some are being rolled out. In our preparation for a war against COVID, there is an urgent need to develop storage and transportation facilities so that vaccines can reach the masses.
India does not have adequate storage facility and therefore has to depend upon foreign collaboration and technology transfer. Already for vaccine development we are in collaboration and technology transfer.
An example of Atmanirbhar Bharat or Make-in-India programme in vaccine storage and transportation is on the anvil. In India-Luxembourg Virtual Summit on November 19, this year, the Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel assured India of his country’s help to fight the COVID war. In the virtual summit both the leaders discussed the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including its health and socio-economic consequences, and expressed their resolve to combat the pandemic. They underlined the need for global solidarity to respond effectively to the pandemic to ensure sustainable socio-economic post-COVID-19 recovery, and to stimulate economic development and financial resilience. They agreed to continue their cooperation, including within the India-EU partnership framework, to strengthen preparedness and response capacities, sharing information in a free, transparent and prompt manner, and improving international response including through relevant international organisations, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Following this virtual summit, a noted Luxembourg enterprise and a global leader in vaccine cold chain solutions, B-Medical Systems has joined hands with Parekh Integrated Services Private Ltd to set up a cold storage manufacturing facility in Mundra SEZ in Gujarat. “We have chosen this location after looking at several locations in Telangana, Maharashtra and Gujarat for its excellent infrastructure, proximity to our suppliers and access to the port which is critical for ensuring rapid production,” said the company’s CEO Luc Provost.
The location of Mundra port situated on the west coast will be an excellent point for exports to South-East Asia and East Africa. In the first phase, the company intends to invest 15 million Euros and employ local people. “We seek to have a very high level of local content with a target of 80 per cent along with the transfer of technology while ensuring that we have no components of Chinese origin”, said Luc Provost. Thus this would be an excellent example of Make-in-India project or Atmanirbhar Bharat Programme.
Luc said that his company is in talks with several leading pharmaceutical companies in the country who have expressed in partnering to develop the cold chain to accompany not only their vaccines but also other biological. Dr Reddy’s Lab has already signed a MoU with B-Medical Systems.
According to Luc, the first launch event will be in Ahmadabad on January 1, next year where leaders of pharmaceutical industry and public health will be invited. The product rollout for Indian market will be from February 1, 2021. The pricing of the product will be affordable. A small cold chain box will cost around Rs 30,000 and can store about 10,000 vaccines. A larger cold chain box can store 300,000 vaccines. Minimum temperature will be maintained at minus (-) 70 degree centigrade
Vaccines development is not a problem now. Scientists are on their guards. Many of them are under clinical trials while some are being rolled out. The problem that remains is its storage and transportation. These COVID vaccines need to be stored at very low temperatures, even to the extent of minus (-) 70 degree centigrade. India does not have adequate cold chain storage and transportation facility. Vaccines need to reach the masses, even in remote areas. It is heartening to note that a global leader in vaccine cold chain solution from Luxembourg has come forward to partner with an Indian company on basis of technology transfer and manufacturing in India with 80 per cent local content. This is an excellent example of Atmanirbhar Bharat or Make-in-India programme. (IPA Service)