Several states on Monday began a trial run of Covid-19 vaccine delivery systems, with health officials checking everything from technology platforms to the storage infrastructure that will be needed to inoculate millions of its citizens.
India aims to deliver 600 million coronavirus shots in the next six to eight months starting in January, with emergency use approval for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine expected within a few days.
The country's drug regulator, Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), is also considering similar approvals for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and another indigenously developed by India's Bharat Biotech.
“The exercise is basically a mock drill for our healthcare workers on how to run the whole vaccination process and system,” Jaiprakash Shivahare, the commissioner for health in Gujarat, told Reuters.
Pfizer requires a temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius and experts have raised questions that India's existing cold storage facilities do not match these conditions. Pfizer told NDTV in a statement that it has “developed detailed logistical plans and tools to support effective vaccine transport, storage and temperature monitoring” and will be using different options for storage, ranging from temperature-controlled thermal shippers to refrigeration units that are commonly available in hospitals. It also said that the pricing of the vaccine will depend on the doses ordered and the advance commitments with the government.
State health officials had set up 19 vaccination centres, each with 25 dummy beneficiaries played by health workers, who would help test out the entire inoculation sequence, including online monitoring systems, Mr Shivahare said.
“The cold chain infrastructure for distribution of the vaccine is also being tested as a part of the dry run,” he said.
In Assam, mock drills and training were carried out in two districts, where vaccinators were given instructions on storing and administering the shots.
“In the first phase, we shall be administering the vaccine only to healthcare workers,” Assam's junior health minister Pijush Hazarika said.
India has the second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world after the US, and it has recorded 147,901 deaths so far.
On Monday, the Union health ministry reported a daily increase of a little over 20,000 infections, taking the country's total so far to 10.2 million cases.