As hopes for an early arrival of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 rise, the next challenge for the government lies in creating a successful immunisation programme. The government has formed a National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 to devise an immunisation programme, which is built on end-to-end supply chain and logistics systems.
The role of the supply chain is to ensure effective vaccine storage, handling, and stock management; rigorous temperature control in the cold chain; and maintenance of adequate logistics management information systems. According to the World Health Organisation, a successful immunisation prgramme requires six 'rights' of supply-chain management: right product, right quantity, right condition, right place, right time, and right cost.
Logistics support or supply chain is critical to immunisation services as it ensures an adequate supply of high-quality vaccines and immunisation-related paraphernalia to all levels of the programme. If the logistics programme is well-managed, it can help save on programme costs in ensuring efficient implementation without sacrificing the quality of service delivery.
At present, India has a 28,000-unit cold storage network that is used for government's universal immunisation programme but no company can transport vaccines that require -25 degrees Celsius, according to a report in The Indian Express. However, researchers are working on a number of COVID-19 vaccines that suit temperatures in India.
The central government has started the identification process of cold chain storage facilities given that the unprecedented scale of the COVID-19 vaccination.
Private cold chain logistics firms gave begun preparing capacities for storing vaccines. Siro Clinpharm has set aside three state-of-the-art deep freezers of -20 degrees Celsius for storage of approved vaccine, the daily added. Besides, private players, food cold-chain is also expected to be roped in this to achieve last-mile availability of the vaccine.
The cold chain for immunisation consists of a series of storage and transport links. Vaccine manufacturing companies transport vaccine in a refrigerated truck to the airport. After that, the vaccine will be kept in ice-packed thermocol boxes in the air cargo. Later, vaccines are shipped via air cargo and are being kept at the government medical store depots. Then vaccines are taken to state and district stores. From there, vaccines are taken to primary health centers and community healthcare centres.
Another crucial aspect of the supply chain is "monitoring of the vaccine" all through its transit until it is dosed. GS1 India, organisation formed by the Ministry of Commerce, said that tracking each vaccine as it moves across the supply chain is important as patient safety is the key driver for adopting these standards.
At present, GS1 has approached Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech, Dr Reddy's Laboratories and Zydus Cadila for vaccine traceability.
According to GS1 India COO, S Swaminathan, an IT-enabled system will be required at the vaccine manufacturing point. Also, global product identifier (GTIN), expiry date, batch numbers to be captured at the secondary packaging level, and unique carton code (serial shipping container code) at the tertiary packaging level.
The Centre expects to receive and utilise 400-500 million doses and cover almost 20-25 crore people by July next year.