By Indira Guerrero
New Delhi, Jan 15 (efe-epa).- India will begin on Saturday the world’s largest inoculation drive to offer Covid-19 vaccine shots to 1.35 billion people in a campaign beset with logistic challenges, a fragile healthcare system, and skepticism over a homegrown immunogen.
The pandemic tested the Indian authorities from the outset when on Mar.25 it imposed the largest confinement of people in history.
Now comes the immunization campaign that follows a large-scale health operation carried out some 20 years ago when it launched a polio campaign to vaccinate some 100 million children under the age of three in a day.
This time, the target is to cover the entire adult population despite inventory constraints, poor infrastructure, geographical complexities, and monitoring each recipient to complete their immunization within the time frames needed to receive both doses of the vaccine.
“We have conducted many campaigns in India, the most important is the polio vaccination drive in 1995 and we were successful in that, the same experience we will be using in the vaccination campaign also,” Ajai Ghai, an immunization officer in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, told EFE.
“The only difference is that since it is a new vaccine, we cannot say how it will turn out, but I am quite sure we are going to be successful,” he said.
Ghai acknowledged that “challenges will be definitely there”, especially since the campaign is directed at adults, making the process even more complicated.
The only precedent for such logistics challenges in the world’s largest democracy has been conducting general elections, which, with a system of including 900 million voters at the polls, has served the government as a guideline for the vaccination drive.
Ajay said that it would allow the authorities to bypass the complex task of selection, as they would use the data from the electoral database because not everyone in India can do a self-registration.
It is the most up-to-date information by age group and location available, V.S. Sampath, former Electoral Commissioner who oversaw the 2014 general elections, told EFE.
He underlined that that data would allow healthcare professionals to locate people as accurately as possible, even in the remotest places.
So far, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has approved for the “emergency use” of Covishield, a vaccine jointly developed by Oxford University and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
Another vaccine approved for emergency use is Covaxin, developed by the Indian laboratory Bharat Biotech and the Indian Medical Research Council (ICMR).
The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines in terms of volume, is responsible for producing Covishield and has already delivered nearly 11 million doses to the government to kickstart the campaign while Bharat Biotech confirmed a purchase of some six million more vaccines.
The campaign begins from production plants in India and involves the air transfer of vials to cover the country’s four coordinates –– Karnal (north), Mumbai (west), Kolkata (east), and Chennai (south).
All this while they have to keep the cold chain intact.
The next major challenge will involve transferring the doses by land to 29,000 points identified across the country as intermediate stations before ending up in healthcare facilities for inoculation.
The vaccines need to be stored between 2 and 8 degrees centigrade, presenting an imposing challenge for health workers considering India’s poor infrastructure, problems in electricity supply in rural areas, and the approaching summer when temperatures cross 40 degrees in large parts of the country.
For this purpose, 70 freezing chambers, 240 refrigerators, 45,000 ice-coated refrigerators, 41,000 freezers, 300 solar-charge refrigerators, and nearly 200,000 workers trained for this task have been made available.