As vaccines are reaching final phases of trials and are estimated to be launched soon, one question remains – how will a country as vast as India handle fair distribution?
According to the Niti Aayog, regulated plans are in place about who will get the vaccine first, what the pricing will be, and how much time the distribution process will take. Apart from this, plans to use schools, Anganwadi centers, and other facilities as site of distribution are being discussed.
“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,” said Dr Vinod Paul, a Niti Aayog official and head of the advisory panel to the PM for distribution.
The Centre plans on distributing the vaccines directly after procuring them from the drugmakers. The Government has identified and categorized beneficiaries who will be the first few sections to get the vaccine. According to PTI, states and Union Territories have been told not to separate pathways for the vaccine.
According to reports, the government so far has identified 30 Crore people in their priority groups. They are categorized as healthcare professionals, frontline workers, people above the age of fifty, and people under the age of fifty with co-morbidities. So far, one crore healthcare professionals including doctors, MBBS students, nurses, and ASHA workers have been recognized. Two crore frontline workers like police personnel, municipal workers and armed forces have been counted. Twenty six crore people above the age off fifty have been calculated and another group for people under fifty with co-morbidities is categorized.
The plan has been formulated keeping in mind that the first few months of distribution will be slow paced. “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,” said Dr Paul.
State governments are now required to identify buildings and public places which can be used as vaccination booths. The Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN) will be extensively used in the distribution process. The Health Ministry’s system will send SMSs with information about the date, time, and venue for distribution to individuals. It will also track them and be used to avoid duplication. Aadhar and other identity card will be used to track and link individuals. The eVIN system will also keep a real time track of vaccine tracking, availability, and storage. These processes fall under the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP). The vaccine is estimated to be free of cost for priority groups.
Currently, cold chain facilities in over 28,000 locations are being used to manufacture and store the vaccine.
Earlier this month, Bloomberg estimated the pricing of vaccines in India, stating that the government has set aside approximately Rs 50,000 crores for the distribution, with Rs 500 as the cost per person.
India is likely to enter its distribution phase in the first half of 2021. The Oxford – AstraZeneca vaccine in correspondence with the Serum Institute of India is planning to start its distribution process towards the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021. India’s own Covaxin by Bharat Biotech is estimated to be released in February 2021.