• Dr Parag Diwan

Moving Vials: Challenges & Opportunities

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

Making Covid-19 vaccine available at scale

Over the past fortnight, there has been a buzz by at least three of the candidate companies about the satisfactory completion of phase III trials of the Covid-19 vaccine. Both Pfizer and Moderna have announced that their vaccines are more than 90% effective. These companies already sought permission that the drug regulators (in the U.S. as well as in Europe) to authorize the emergency use of their respective vaccines. Astra Zeneca has also crossed the finishing line. They confirm that their vaccine was potentially about 70% successful.

The Astra Zeneca vaccine seems to be a better bet for India not only because it is more cost-effective and but also the logistics of moving the supplies of this vaccine is easier. It is due to its relatively manageable cold storage temperature. Serum Institute India, the country’s leading vaccine manufacturer has already manufactured 4 million doses and is geared to supply 100 million doses by July 2021.

India’s Immunization Plan

“India plans to immunize 200–250 million people — a sixth of its population — with 400–500 million COVID-19 vaccine shots by July 2021”.

As the vaccine availability becomes a reality soon, the focus would now turn to the complex logistics involved in delivering the vaccine to India’s large populations.

It is foreseen that the challenges would be both in the logistics of the supply chain and in the health, the workforce needed to administer the vaccine and monitor the adverse effects.

Effective Cold Chain Logistics: Need of the Hour

The effective delivery across the nation would require a robust supply-chain that involves vaccine manufacturers, airlines, logistics service providers, and cold-storage companies. Undoubtedly, there would be immense challenges in the distribution and administration of vaccines in India due to its size and the low temperatures required to store the vaccine.

Therefore, cold-chain logistics, including storage, is going to be a crucial link in vaccine distribution. It throws up both challenges and opportunities for the public and private sectors. Hence, establishing a collaborative network of both public-private and public-public partnerships is of utmost importance. It entails the identification and development of required physical logistics infrastructure, establishing IT-enabled supply chain transparency, and creating organizational structures.

Opportunities and Challenges

The opportunities lie in overcoming the limitations of using dry ice technology. One solution is to combine; precision-engineered containers, advanced cooling technology, and IoT driven software to mitigate the limitations caused by traditional methods.

Many companies in India are already gearing up to take on this challenge and find opportunities in this emerging social business. Cold chain providers, such as BlueStar, Voltas, and the like on one hand, and large logistics players such as BlueDart, All Cargo, Mahindra Logistics on the other are jumping into the fray. Domestic airline companies such as Spice Jet and IndiGo have also taken early initiatives to support the nationwide distribution to enable the delivery of the vaccine to the nook and cranny of the country. Time will tell how the Indian logistics, cold chain, and the aviation industry would make this a reality.

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