With the probability of a coronavirus vaccine being available within months, the government has started a massive exercise to map cold chain storage facilities to ensure that the vaccine is delivered rapidly across the nation. To find cold storages or fridges at the taluka level that can store and distribute the vaccine, a national expert group is talking to public and private sector entities in the pharmaceutical sector, food processing industry and agro-businesses as well as food distribution start-ups such as Swiggy and Zomato, sources with direct knowledge of the discussions said.
A draught scheme for the vaccine delivery is expected to be published in the middle of next week, they said.
India is likely to have at least one domestic vaccine and three foreign vaccines available in the coming months.
A cold supply chain, with temperatures that can go far below zero degrees Celsius, down to -80 degrees Celsius, will be needed for most of the vaccine candidates, although most need to be held at between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius.
The sources said that, except for a few freeze-dried products, most candidates for vaccines are in liquid form. They are to be given by intramuscular injection / pathway and a two-dose regimen will be required.
An estimate of the cold chain space necessary for vaccines was made, taking into account that 18% of the population would have to be covered within six months, they said, adding that both the current temperature ranges (+2 to +8 degrees Celsius and -15 to -20 degrees Celsius) were considered to account for sufficient storage in either condition.
A cold chain augmentation plan to resolve the additional cold chain space needed for the vaccine has already been launched by the Union Health Ministry.
The sources suggested that there would be a temporary need (2-3 months) for significant cold storage capacity at the state / regional level to store and distribute large incoming vaccine quantities.
While most of the vaccine products under development need a conventional temperature range in the cold chain (+2 to +8 degrees Celsius and -15 to -20 degrees Celsius), some products which need temperatures of -60 to -80 degrees Celsius, for which help may be sought from the private sector that maintains such storage.
With multiple immunisation sessions being planned, additional support will support the mega immunisation drive by increasing the fleet of refrigerated vans to transport vaccines.