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India's Mega Vaccination Drive

Team BT     February 18, 2021

Even as India is ramping up its Covid-19 vaccination drive and every citizen above 50 years of age is expected to be eligible for vaccine administration in the coming months, overcoming supply chain hurdles remain the key to successful implementation of the ambitious programme. Leading experts representing the entire spectrum of healthcare and vaccines came together in a Business Today webinar on Supply Chain Dynamics in Indias Mega Vaccination to highlight challenges and suggest the way forward. India plans to innoculate 300-million people with coronavirus vaccines by July.

Dr Rana Mehta, Partner and Leader, Healthcare, PwC, initiated the discussion by stating that the discovery of Covid-19 vaccine and its effective inoculation pose entirely different challenges. The effective procurement, digitalisaiton and supplies are key to successful administration, which remains a work in progress. Dr Suresh Jadhav, Executive Director, Serum Institute of India, said the broad framework that India follows is that of the World Health Organization (WHO). The prioritisation of vaccine administration is the government's choice. While Western countries chose to inoculate the most vulnerable first, India chose to vaccinate its fronline healthworkers first. However, the country is racing against time to complete its first phase of vaccination drive as the stocks - 20 million supplied by Serum Institute of India alone - carries a six-month expiry date. "The government needs to use it within weeks and months before they expire. Of the 20-million doses supplied by Serum till date, Centre has administered just a little over two million shots so far. The company has a stock of another 50-60 million doses. It is also producing at a monthly average of 50-60 million, which will go up to 100 million a month by April", Dr Jadhav said.

Serum, which was allowed to stockpile the vaccines since October-November 2020 even before getting the emergency use authorisation from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), has so far made about 100-million doses. Of this, 20 million has been given to India and 8 million were exported to other countries (like Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Seychelles and Brazil). "These are costly vaccines and the government needs to quickly utilise the supplied stocks of about 18 million. We have sufficient stocks for India and if required can give additional quantities," says Dr Jadhav. He also said that stability studies are going on with positive results to increase the shelf life of the vaccine to nine months. "This can be achieved soon and with better stability data, eventually it can be increased to one or one-and-a-half years going forward," he adds.

Rajiv Nath, Managing Director, Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices Ltd, said unlike vaccines, needles have a longer shelf life of about five years, but it is a challenge to make huge quantities of needles. Different new forms of vaccines are being developed like single dose and nasal sprays and droplets. Such vaccines require special syringes and delivery platforms which will require time to design and make them.

"Consumption needs to be ramped up to match at least production of vaccines, syringes and then start depletion of stockpiles of inventories by starting vaccination of 60-plus and essential services and products providers, including journalists in field and airline staff," added Nath.

Jack Muhs, President, Indian sub-continent, Middle East and Africa of Fedex Express, said the scale of vaccine supply has created many challenges like cold chain management, packaging, tracking supplies and last-mile delivery. "It has been a continuing exercise working with regulatory agencies, manufacturers and other stakeholders," he says.

PwC's Dr Mehta said the coronavirus pandemic saw the emergence of a new business model involving regulatory flexibility, collaborations among competitors and governments pre-purchasing vaccines etc and the learnings will be useful in future to handle such pandemics and even drug development.

Business Today editor Rajeev Dubey moderated the webinar.

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