Govt sets up task force for vaccine distribution

In the absence of a vaccine or a cure, the only way to slow the spread of Covid-19 has been wearing masks, social distancing, and restricting regular activities — things that have taken a toll on life and work.

India has formed an expert committee comprising representatives from all relevant ministries and institutions to oversee all aspects of its Covid-19 vaccine plan, from identification of the vaccine to buying to financing the purchase to distribution and administration — a move that comes even as six vaccines are in Phase 3 or combined Phase 2-3 trials and as countries around the world scramble to strike deals with multiple vaccine makers.

According to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named, the panel will be led by Niti Aayog’s Dr VK Paul and co-chaired by health secretary Rajesh Bhushan. It will pick the vaccine or vaccines that India can use, plan the finances for what is sure to be an expensive purchase running into billions of dollars, and prioritise the sequence of administration.

In the absence of a vaccine or a cure, the only way to slow the spread of Covid-19 has been wearing masks, social distancing, and restricting regular activities — things that have taken a toll on life and work. Till Friday night, the coronavirus disease had infected 19,385, 292 people around the world and killed 720, 053. In India, the corresponding numbers are 2,083, 835 and 42,566.

HT was the first to report on July 27 that Indian officials were already discussing a wide range of issues related to the vaccine, from logistics to prioritisation, to setting the stage for a smooth supply and effective use of the vaccine.

The high-level panel, formed by the cabinet secretary on Friday, includes AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria, representatives of the ministries of external affairs, biotechnology, information technology, the Director General of Health services, India’s Aids Research Institute, the Indian Council of Medical Research, and also representatives from states.

The panel’s task starts with identifying the vaccine, or vaccines. Countries such as the US and the UK are spreading their risks, striking deals with multiple vaccine makers who are ahead in the race to develop a vaccine.

It will then decide how the vaccines should be procured—whether foreign agencies should be involved or whether state governments will be allowed to procure on their own or if there should be a central procuring system directly under the supervision of the central government.

A government official familiar with the matter said that the panel would co-ordinate this with Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organisation. India is already set to be a beneficiary of the Covax programme of GAVI and will get enough vaccine doses through the agency to administer to 20% of its population.

The group will also draft a financial plan, plan a budget and discuss how many can be raised for the mammoth exercise of procurement, distribution, and administration.

Finally, the panel will prepare a strategy on inventory management, distribution, and administration.

Many of these issues have been discussed over the past month across ministries and institutions, the officials cited in the first instance said.

The authorities are carefully watching the development of at least nine vaccines, including at least two Chinese ones, and hoping that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, being made in India by the Adar Poonawalla-led Serum Institute of India, works.

“The internal discussions have started so that we are fully prepared, and to avoid any last-moment glitches. One of the key issues is distribution in remote areas such as North East India and how we have to set up large-scale cold storage facilities in such areas,” added the government official.

That, though is a second-generation problem. India first needs to identify a vaccine and procure enough doses of it.

Dr. Sanjay Chatterjee of Calcutta Medical College said, “It’s good that centre has formed such a committee in advance to sort out logistical and related issues in a huge and populous country such as India. But as (with regard to) many things including the final status of the vaccines in the race, some key decisions can be only taken at a later stage.”

Source: Hindustan Times


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