States are beginning to receive COVID-19 vaccine shipments ahead of the rollout of a mass inoculation campaign officials anticipate to be the world’s biggest.
Officials hope that the coming six to eight months will witness 300 million inoculated against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19. The cohort consists of thirty million frontline workers such as healthcare workers and 270 million people who are vulnerable because of age (denoting those over fifty) and/or with underlying conditions. Vaccine rollout begins January 16th.
The Serum Institute of India, based in Pune, Maharashtra, transported on Tuesday morning 5.95 million doses of Covishield – the vaccine produced by the Institute and manufactured by drugmaker AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. The vaccine shipments were ferried by air to Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Kolkata – “the four major regional depots for COVID-19 vaccines” as reported by The Times of India. The cities received the vaccines within ten hours of dispatch; other cities including Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Guwahati, Lucknow, Patna, and Vijayawada have also received vaccine shipments.
“The transport exercise for the remaining doses will continue till Wednesday evening,” The Times of India quoted a senior Serum Institute of India official as saying.
Two vaccine candidates have received emergency use authorisation thus far. Covishield is one. The other is Covaxin, developed by indigenous manufacturer Bharat Biotech. Procurement deals for 1.1 crore doses of Covishield and 55 lakh doses of Covaxin have been inked by the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Serum Institute of India, involved in manufacturing doses of Covishield, has “given a special price of 200 rupees ($2.73) for the first 100 million doses only to the government of India on their request” according to its chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla. “After that we’ll be selling it at 1,000 Indian rupees in private markets,” he added.
Concerns remain, nonetheless, regarding India’s vaccine drive. Inoculating more than 1.3 billion people is a mammoth task at the best of times – and the requirements for COVID-19 vaccines in terms of what temperature is needed for storage and pre-existing infrastructural concerns only compound these issues. Added to this is the challenge of vaccine hesitancy fomented by misinformation – a mounting concern worldwide that could impede achieving herd immunity should enough people be dissuaded from accepting a shot.
The vaccine shipments marks the beginning of a public health campaign arguably unparalleled in living memory. Only India’s victory over polio comes to mind in recent memory. But the issues cannot be ignored – and it will require a herculean effort to ensure a rollout of vaccines that reaches all, in safe conditions, and with effective communication.