The large contingent of foreign diplomats who visited Hyderabad’s Genome Valley on Wednesday were quite impressed with the facilities for manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccine there. The tour of the delegation, which included 64 ambassadors and high commissioners and 15 others from international scientific establishments, was led by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

The top brass of the MEA undertook this tour after a trip by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Genome Valley in Hyderabad on 28 November. The foreign envoys’ team visited two major biotech and pharmaceutical firms–Bharat Biotech India Limited (BBIL) and Biological E Limited (BE)–and interacted with the scientists there, during their day-long trip.

BBIL is in the process of rolling out its own Covaxin vaccine, while BE is making vaccines for a few global pharmaceutical companies, including one for a US-based Dynavax. Needless to say, Hyderabad accounts for 33% of the vaccine manufacturing in the country and is the factory for several global biotech majors–now the number is put at 25 or more.

As Telangana Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar put it in his welcoming address to the diplomats, “Hyderabad is not just the vaccine hub of India, but to the entire world.” This was appreciated by the PM too on his visit here. Close to 2,000 biotech and bulk drug firms are located in Genome Valley and the Pharma City here, while around 200 of them are major global exporters.

Not surprisingly, both BBIL and BE are almost led by women executives—Dr Suchitra Eella at BBIL and Mahima Datla at BE. While BBIL was founded in 1996, BE was established way back in 1953. To its credit, BBIL has so far produced many vaccines, including ones for polio and hepatitis, among others. BE has produced a vaccine for DPT in 1962.

Both these firms have commenced phase two/three clinical trials of their vaccines and have applied for emergency use authorisation from the Indian regulator, as per information supplied to the visiting envoys. Indications are there that BBIL might get the approval first in a few weeks, followed by BE, if they fulfil the norms prescribed by the regulators.

Not only these two, there are a few other biotech and pharmaceutical majors in Hyderabad which are in the process of manufacturing vaccines for other global companies from the US, UK and France. For instance, Natco Pharma has just received an establishment inspection report for its Kothur facility on the city outskirts from the US health regulator, USFDA.

The brilliant performance by these pharmaceutical majors boosts the Aatmanirbhar Bharat slogan of the Centre and instils confidence among the governments, so that they can go ahead with plans to distribute the Coid vaccine in the next few months. The Centre has already hinted at inoculating around 30 crore people in the country to begin with, in a few weeks.

Taking a cue from the vaccine preparedness, the Union Health Ministry has readied an application, Covin, signalling Covid vaccine intelligence network and it would be thrown open for the general public to register their names from by the end of December. Currently, this application is made available only for the states to coordinate their distribution networks.

The Telangana government conducted a mock drill of vaccination last week at a centre at Boggulakunta, in Hyderabad. The patients of this area were identified based on the electoral rolls and dummy exercise was carried on around 25 people. The mock drill contained every stage of vaccine distribution, right from the cold storage to the vaccination centre and things went well. The Centre has asked states to appoint vaccine in-charge officers at every level–state, district and city–so that the entire medical and non-medical staff are placed at their disposal.

According to Srinivasa Rao, Telangana vaccine in-charge and the public health director, people would be allowed to register their names on the Covin App, with some criteria–age, nature of jobs and co-morbidity. No-one will be given the vaccine without online registration. The eligible persons would be allotted a slot at a designated vaccine centre.

“We plan to vaccinate around 75 lakh people in Telangana, while the number for the entire country would be 30 crore,” Rao said. Arrangements are underway to store close to three crore vaccine doses in the next few weeks. The medical personnel are being trained to administer the vaccine to the public. More than a hundred vehicles are being readied to transport the vaccine doses. All eyes are now on the drug regulators’ approval for the vaccines and guidelines from the Union Health ministry.