India to launch one of the largest Covid vaccination campaigns in the world this weekend

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Employees at Bangalore Airport transfer cardboard boxes containing vials of Covishield vaccine developed by the Serum Institute of India to Bangalore, India on January 12, 2021.

Stringer | Xinhua | Getty Images

SINGAPORE – India is gearing up for one of the world’s largest mass immunization exercises starting on Saturday.

The South Asian country plans to vaccinate some 300 million people, or more than 20% of its 1.3 billion inhabitants, against Covid-19 in the first phase of the exercise.

Indian airlines have started delivering the first doses of vaccines to Delhi and other major cities including Kolkata, Ahmedabad and the Bengaluru technology hub, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted earlier this week. .

Priority for vaccines will be given to health workers and other frontline workers – around 30 million people. Next are people over 50 and others who are younger and at high risk.

The deployment will involve close collaboration between the central government and the states.

India has also developed a digital portal called Co-WIN Vaccine Delivery Management System. It will provide real-time information on “vaccine stocks, their storage temperature and individualized monitoring of beneficiaries,” according to the Ministry of Health.

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India has a long history of vaccination campaigns … and will build on this expertise to distribute coronavirus vaccines.

“India’s expertise in vaccine manufacturing and experience with mass vaccination campaigns has prepared it well for the ‘phase 1’ vaccinations which are expected to begin this weekend,” wrote Akhil Bery, analyst. for South Asia at Eurasia Group, in a report this week.

“India has a long history of vaccination campaigns, including its universal vaccination program which inoculates 55 million per year, and will build on this expertise to distribute vaccines against coronaviruses,” he added.

Emergency approval

India’s medicines regulator has approved the restricted use of two coronavirus vaccines in emergency situations, both of which are delivered to the various inoculation centers before Saturday.

One of them is a vaccine developed by the Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which is manufactured in the country by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and is known locally as Covishield.

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Another vaccine, called Covaxin, was Nationally developed by Bharat Biotech of India in collaboration with the Indian State-run Medical Research Council. It has been granted emergency use authorization as clinical trials continue.

The approval of Covaxin has reportedly been criticized by some, with the regulator giving the green light shortly after asking Bharat Biotech for further analysis.

India’s Health Secretary said on Tuesday the Indian government has signed agreements to purchase 11 million doses of Covishield at 200 Indian rupees ($ 2.74) per dose and 5.5 million doses of Covaxin at an average cost of 206 rupees per injection, which will likely be cheaper than what they cost in the private market.

Several other candidates, including a second vaccine developed nationally by Zydus Cadila, are in clinical trials.

Potential risks

India currently has more than 10.5 million reported cases of coronavirus, just behind the United States. More than 151,000 people have died from Covid-19 in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But figures reported daily show that the number of cases of active infection is declining.

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The largest country in South Asia is also the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, and is said to produce around 60% of all vaccines sold globally.

As such, India’s production of Covid vaccines is expected to play a major role in global vaccination campaigns against the disease.

Mr Bery said despite the government’s optimism, two significant risks could potentially slow the roll-out of the vaccination campaign.

“First, vaccine production capacity will be limited even in the best scenarios,” he said, adding that if local vaccine makers cannot produce the 600 million doses needed to inoculate the 300 million people. initials, then “India’s vaccination schedule – and its export of vaccines to other countries – could be significantly delayed. “

The second risk is that India’s vaccination campaign will depend heavily on state governments “whose capacities and expertise vary widely,” said Bery. “Effective coordination will be needed between central government and state government, which has not been (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s strong suit.”

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