delivery-of-covid-19-vaccines-poses-a-huge-challenge

Image source: ET

Context: The government recently said it will procure the vaccine and distribute it under a special COVID-19 immunisation programme to four categories of people, free-of-charge. 

Priority groups: The priority groups named are

  • Healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses and ASHA workers, 
  • Frontline workers including police and armed forces, 
  • Those aged above 50 and 
  • Those below 50 years of age with co-morbidities

Challenges:

  • Vaccine shortage: When there is insufficient supply to offer vaccines to all who would otherwise qualify, which group will be prioritised, will be the question. 
  • Ultralow temperatures: Most of the COVID-19 vaccines, the RNA vaccines in particular, that are in the advanced stage of Phase-3 trials require –70 degrees C to –80 degree C cold-chain. 
    • India has never had this kind of storage requirement and building the infrastructure for ultracold storage requires considerable resources, because we  need not just the freezers, but also uninterrupted power supply.
  • Vaccinating people with two doses four weeks apart during the pandemic will be a big challenge. Vaccinating twice one month apart is something India has done for polio programmes for well over a decade. 
  • Vaccine coverage: While the national immunisation programme is limited to vaccinating children, COVID-19 vaccination will be across age groups, including older people. 

    • It remains to be seen how well the lessons learnt from the national immunisation programme can be replicated for other age groups.

Hence, the decision to use a COVID-19 vaccine will need to take into consideration logistics and infrastructure needed to distribute and deliver vaccines, which goes beyond financial resources to purchase vaccines.

Way forward:

  • Bring people to vaccine: India may need to decide whether vaccines that require this form of storage should be used only in cities where such facilities can be built. 
    • It may make sense to bring people to the vaccine, instead of taking the vaccine to people in some settings.
    • The Oxford vaccine does not require ultracold temperatures, and hence, the existing system used in the routine immunisation programme may be able to handle the vaccines.
  • Using previous experience: For injectable vaccines where two doses need to be given three or four weeks apart, we will need to learn from our experience with polio and measles-rubella campaigns.
  • Vaccines should be prioritised for groups as identified by the government, which might mean that all vaccines are only available in the public sector, at least when supplies are limited. Any vaccines being diverted at a time when supply is limited deprives priority groups.
  • Buying vaccines: There is a possibility of the government allowing companies to purchase vaccines to maintain business continuity. 
    • Certain types of vaccines that are unsuitable for public programmes in India because of expense or cold chain requirements, might be opened up for purchase by companies, organisations and individuals as a premium product.

Source: TH


 

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Q) The decision to use a COVID-19 vaccine will need to take into consideration logistics and infrastructure needed to distribute and deliver vaccines, which goes beyond financial resources to purchase vaccines. Analyse. (150 words)