New Delhi: The Centre is ready for the smooth distribution of Covid-19 vaccine in case it is ready before December. Although Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has said that India’s first vaccine would be available by the end of 2020, sources said the vaccine may be ready earlier.
Sources said the government does not want to waste any time in starting its distribution in case the vaccine is ready early. “Therefore, we have to make sure that every system and strategy is well in place so that distribution work starts immediately after the go-ahead is given by the scientists,” said a source, adding “there is a possibility of the vaccine being ready in the next four to six weeks”.
Deliberations are going on, on who should get the vaccine first once it is ready. There appears to be a general consensus that the frontline workers should get it first. Deliberations are also on, on whether the elderly people should get it or those with co-morbidities or the people placed in socio-economic disadvantages and whose immunity has been weakened due to poverty and malnutrition.
While the government is holding meetings with representatives of the vaccine manufacturers, it is also developing an Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN), an innovative technological solution aimed at strengthening immunization supply chain systems across the country. This strong platform has the potential to be leveraged for the new Covid-19 vaccine, as and when it is available.
The National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 met representatives of leading domestic manufacturers, including Serum Institute of India (Pune), Bharat Biotech (Hyderabad) and Zydus Cadila (Ahmedabad) this week, to take inputs about the present stage of various candidate vaccines as well as their expectations from the government.
The meeting was chaired by Niti Aayog member V.K. Paul and co-chaired by Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan. The meeting was also attended by representatives of Gennova Biopharmaceuticals (Pune) and Biological E (Hyderbad). The panel asked them about their production capacity and whether they need any kind of assistance from the government.
This was the second meeting of the committee. The first meeting was held last week.
Talking about the eVIN, an official said the network is being implemented under the National Health Mission (NHM) by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which aims to provide real-time information on vaccine stocks and flows, and storage temperatures across all cold chain points in the country. This robust system has been used with the requisite customization during the Covid pandemic for ensuring continuation of the essential immunization services and “protecting our children and pregnant mothers against vaccine preventable diseases”.
According to information provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the eVIN has reached 32 states and Union Territories (UTs) and will soon be rolled out in the remaining states and UTs of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Ladakh and Sikkim. At present, 23,507 cold chain points across 585 districts of 22 states and two UTs routinely use the eVIN technology for efficient vaccine logistics management. Over 41,420 vaccine cold chain handlers have been introduced for digital record-keeping by training them on eVIN. Nearly 23,900 electronic temperature loggers have been installed on vaccine cold chain equipment for accurate temperature review of vaccines in storage.
To support the Government of India’s efforts to combat Covid-19, eVIN India is helping the state/UT governments monitor the supply chain of Covid response material. Since April 2020, eight states (Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra) are using the eVIN application with 100% adherence rate to track state specific Covid-19 material supplies, ensure availability and raise alerts in case of shortage of 81 essential drugs and equipment.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), on the other hand, said with its inputs and support, the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 will help Indian firms interested in any candidate vaccines, and facilitate the process of ensuring that relevant testing data is made available to India’s regulatory agencies.
MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the government has set up a national expert group on vaccine administration for Covid-19. The purpose of the group, he said, is to keep India in the forefront of any ongoing efforts worldwide to innovate, prepare, produce and launch candidate vaccines to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, for India and for the world.
“Through the inputs and support of MEA, this expert group will help connect Indian companies which are interested in any candidate vaccines, and facilitate the process of ensuring that the relevant testing data is made available to our regulatory agencies,” Srivastava said.