As India began its mass Covid-19 vaccination drive on Saturday, the all-critical storage and transportation of millions of vaccines once again topped the people’s minds.
Currently, India is banking on two vaccines – Serum Institute of India’s ‘Covishield’ and Bharat BioTech’s ‘Covaxin’ – and four more in the pipeline to be rolled out in the country, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The good news is that unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines which require a minus 70-degree Celsius (cold) chain, the Indian vaccines need to be stored only at 2-8 degrees Celsius.
According to Department of Biotechnology Secretary Renu Swarup, all Indian vaccines will have to be stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius as the logistics have been worked out while considering temperature as a factor.
So far, the government has procured 1.1 crore ‘Covishield’ and 55 lakh ‘Covaxin’ vaccines at a cost of Rs 200 and Rs 206 per dose, respectively.
The frontrunner ‘Covishield’ is stored and transported at a refrigeration temperature of 2-8 degree Celsius. The vaccine has shown an average efficacy of 70.4 per cent in a pooled analysis of interim data from late-stage trials published in The Lancet.
‘Covaxin’ is a highly purified and inactivated two-dose SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, manufactured in a “Vero cell” manufacturing platform with an excellent safety track record of more than 300 million doses.
The medical refrigerators used for storing vaccines help keep the vials (small glass container holding vaccine doses) at an optimum temperature so that it is effective for disease control.
Normally, a 225-litre medical refrigerator can store 40,000-60,000 vials.
Rajesh Bhushan, Secretary, Health Ministry, informed in mid-December that 29,000 cold chain points, 240 walk-in coolers, 70 walk-in freezers, 45,000 ice-lined refrigerators, 41,000 deep freezers and 300 solar refrigerators will be used for the Covid-19 vaccine storage.
“All necessary resources of vaccination have been delivered to the states,” he added.
For the organised private cold chain storage sector, total vaccine storage capacity would be 250-300 million doses.
“For rolling out the vaccination campaign, cold chain equipment such as walk-in coolers, walk-in freezers, refrigerators, and deep freezers are already procured and distributed to the states,” Harshal R. Salve, Associate Professor at Centre for Community Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, told IANS.
India has the world’s largest immunisation programme with beneficiaries of more than 60 million annually.
Around 520 million Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) and 1.32 billion non-UIP vaccinations are done annually in the country.
According to Salve, India has also demonstrated outreach and decentralised delivery of public services during general elections.
“These experiences will help India roll out the Covid-19 vaccination at the mass level. The use of IT is crucial in tracking and implementation of individual-level vaccination. However, administration of vaccine should be kept as a voluntary exercise and should not be made mandatory,” Salve stressed.
The government will use a digital platform called Co-WIN to track vaccine stocks, storage information, and who gets the doses.
The platform enables national and state administrators to view and sort the data of the beneficiaries as per their gender, age and comorbidity. They can also view the metadata of vaccination and the Adverse Event Following Immunisation (AEFI) reported from the constituent districts.