Challenges galore

Given our vast population, distributing vaccine effectively is an elephantine task

AuthorPublished: 2nd Nov 2020  12:00 amUpdated: 1st Nov 2020  6:43 pm

Preparedness for a swift and equitable distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine once it hits the market and precautionary measures to counter a possible surge in infections during the current festival season constitute the twin challenges before the government as the endgame in the public health crisis draws closer. With about eight vaccine candidates nearing completion of clinical trials and the whole world waiting with bated breath to put an end to the ordeal, the next big challenge is how to deliver the vaccine doses to hospitals and pharmacies safely and how soon the entire population can be vaccinated. Since each vaccine requires a different set of temperature conditions and handling procedures, a robust infrastructure of cold chain facilities for transport and storage becomes critical before they are eventually administered to the masses. For instance, some of the vaccines, undergoing phase III trial, must be stored at temperatures as cold as minus 94 degrees Celsius. Given its vast population and geographical size, India is set to face an elephantine logistics challenge regarding distribution, though it has the wherewithal for manufacturing the required number of doses. There is a need to actively collaborate with private players in the logistics domain to ensure safe delivery of the vaccine within stipulated timelines and compliance parameters. Vaccines are delicate products that can be damaged in excessive heat and light. A temperature-controlled supply chain is crucial to their transport and storage, especially in a vast tropical country like India.

Before the arrival of the vaccine, the immediate task on hand is how to address the lurking danger of a spike in the infections due to large social gatherings for festivals. Fresh waves of Covid cases in the United States, where 1 lakh cases were recorded recently, and with the highest single-day incidence anywhere in the world, Britain and Europe come as a grim reminder that no country can take things for granted. Though India witnessed a steady decline in daily Covid-19 numbers in October while the case fatality rate (CFR) fell below 1.5%, there is no room for complacency. The deaths per million population in the country stand at a low level of 88 while 23 States and Union Territories have a CFR lower than the national average. Ten States — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh — account for 85% of the total deaths. After recovering from the first wave of the pandemic, the world is setting to return to lockdowns as the number of global cases has crossed 44 million. The UK is going for a second round of national lockdown while France and Germany have announced a new set of lockdown rules.

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