By Archana Chaudhary
India’s front line health workers will be the first to be inoculated once an effective vaccine is available, according to a senior official involved in immunisation planning.
Three vaccines are currently at different stages of development in the country so far and a safe candidate is expected early next year, said Dr. Vinod Paul, member of the Niti Aayog and the head of a panel advising the prime minister on the country’s efforts to produce and roll-out the inoculation.
“Mortality reduction and protecting front line workers should be first priority,” Paul said. “Health workers, both in public and private sector across rural and urban India are fighting the battle. Also, municipal workers and police people fighting everywhere should be priority.”
With nearly eight million reported infections, the South Asian nation is the second-worst-hit by the pandemic after the United States and obtaining and ensuring large scale delivery of a vaccine is a huge priority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A strict virus lockdown has resulted in the country’s worst economic downturn in decades and hit its already struggling public health care system.
Paul is coordinating efforts with India’s health ministry in preparing a detailed plan for distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in the nation of 1.3 billion people, in what is likely to be one of the world’s largest such programs. India has reported some 120,000 virus-related deaths so far in spite of having one of the world’s lowest death rates. Only the U.S. and Brazil have lost more lives to the pandemic so far.
Two Indian drug manufacturers are racing to develop an indigenous vaccine. Cadila Healthcare Ltd. and Bharat Biotech International Ltd.’s are both conducting stage two human clinical trials.
The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer is working on “Covishield,” the candidate being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc. and has approval for phase three trials. Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. plans to distribute the Russian vaccine Sputnik in India after conducting final-stage human trials and receiving regulatory approval.
The national vaccine distribution plan is being formulated with the assumption that limited volumes of the inoculation will be available in the first few months of production, Paul said.
“Even if you put together the best capacities, they won’t be sufficient. The most optimistic scenario is that it will take six months to a year to reach everyone,” he said.
While some experts have raised concerns about India’s capability to safely store and transport a potential vaccine, Paul said the nation’s health workers won’t need separate training to handle the inoculations, most of which can be stored at room temperature and will be distributed through already existing systems, according to Paul.
India has set aside about Rs 50,000 crore at an estimated $6-7 per person to vaccinate the world’s second most populous nation, Bloomberg reported earlier this month.
Paul said it was too early to discuss costs. “We are working within parameters,” he said. “Resources will not be a constraint.”