India kicks off large Covid-19 vaccination drive on Saturday, Jan. 16

Bangalore Airport employees transfer cardboard boxes of vials of Covishield vaccine developed by the Serum Institute of India on January 12, 2021 in Bangalore, India.

Stringer | Xinhua | Getty Images

SINGAPORE – India is preparing for one of the largest mass vaccination exercises in the world starting Saturday.

The South Asian country plans to vaccinate around 300 million people, or more than 20% of its 1.3 billion population, against Covid-19 in the first phase of the exercise.

Indian airlines have started delivering the first doses of vaccine to Delhi and other major cities, including Kolkata, Ahmedabad and the Bengaluru Technology Center. The Minister of Civil Aviation, Hardeep Singh Puri, announced earlier this week.

Priority for the recordings is given to healthcare and other frontline workers – an estimated 30 million people. That would be followed by people over the age of 50 and other younger people at high risk.

The rollout will involve close cooperation between the central government and the states.

India has also developed a digital portal called Co-WIN Vaccine Delivery Management System. According to the Ministry of Health, real-time information on “vaccine stocks, their storage temperature and individual tracking of the beneficiaries” is provided.

India has a long history of vaccination campaigns … and will rely on this expertise in spreading coronavirus vaccines.

“India’s vaccine manufacturing expertise and experience with mass vaccination campaigns have prepared it well for the Phase 1 vaccinations scheduled to begin this weekend,” Akhil Bery, South Asia analyst with Eurasia Group, wrote in this week a report.

“India has a long history of vaccination campaigns, including its universal immunization program that vaccinates 55 million a year, and will rely on that expertise in distributing coronavirus vaccines,” he added.

Emergency approval

The Indian Medicines Agency has approved the restricted use of two coronavirus vaccines in emergency situations, both of which will be delivered to the various vaccination centers before Saturday.

One of them is a vaccine developed by the Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca and Oxford University, made domestically by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and known locally as Covishield.

Another vaccine was called Covaxin Developed domestically by India’s Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian State Medical Research Council. Emergency clearance has been granted as clinical trials continue.

Covaxin’s approval has reportedly been criticized by some after the regulator gave the green light shortly after asking Bharat Biotech for further analysis.

India’s Minister of Health said Tuesday the Indian government had signed procurement agreements for 11 million doses of Covishield at Indian rupees 200 ($ 2.74) per dose and 5.5 million doses of Covaxin at an average cost of Rs 206 per shot, which is likely cheaper than what it will cost in the private market.

Several other candidates, including a second domestically developed vaccine from Zydus Cadila, are currently in clinical testing.

Possible risks

India currently has more than 10.5 million reported coronavirus cases, second only to the US. According to the Johns Hopkins University, more than 151,000 people have died of Covid-19 in India. However, figures reported daily show that the number of cases of active infections is decreasing.

South Asia’s largest country is also the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines and is believed to produce about 60% of all vaccines sold worldwide.

As a result, India’s production of Covid vaccines is expected to play an important role in global immunization against the disease.

Eurasia Group’s Bery said that despite the government’s optimism, two major risks could potentially slow the launch of the vaccination campaign.

“First, vaccine production capacity will be limited even in best-case scenarios,” he said, adding that if local vaccine manufacturers cannot produce the 600 million doses needed to vaccinate the first 300 million people, “India’s vaccination schedule – and the export of vaccines to other countries could be significantly delayed. “

The second risk is that India’s vaccination campaign is highly dependent on state governments, “whose capacities and expertise vary widely,” Bery said. “Effective coordination between the central government and the state government is required, which has not been (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s strength.”

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