As Coronavirus surge continues unabated across the world with India battling the infection with strained medical and health infrastructure, people are waiting eagerly for a vaccine to rein in the deadly Covid 19 virus. The National Capital city of Delhi is witnessing daily cases of Corona infection to the tune of over 7,000 with an average of four deaths every hour.
The surge over the past week or 10 days in viral infection was mainly due to Diwali and other festivities as people threw caution to winds and thronged market places in large numbers for shopping. It prompted the Central government to swing in action and thrash out a plan to double the testing in Delhi to one lakh per day and add more hospital beds with Intensive Care Units (ICU) facilities.
Covid 19 poses an unprecedented challenge of storing and distributing the vaccine across the world. Even as the news of Pfizer vaccine which claims to have 90 per cent protection offered hope, it also posed a problem for the governments and health apparatus to store and deploy it as the Pfizer vaccine cannot be removed from a temperature of -70 degrees Celsius more than four times. On the other hand, Moderna’s vaccine needs -20 degrees Celsius temperature to retain its efficacy, Russia’s Sputnik V is unstable at higher than -18 degrees Celsius and the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines needs refrigeration at 2 to -8 degrees Celsius.
Former chief of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Dr N K Ganguly said that medical freezers that can maintain -70 to -80 degrees Celsius are rare even in the U.S. and European hospitals. Stringent cold chains make vaccines challenging for countries like India to deploy. Three billion of the world’s 7.8 billion people live in places with insufficient storage facilities for a Covid-19 vaccine and 25 per cent of vaccines reach their destinations in a damaged condition owing to breaks in the cold chain.
According to Dr Lalit Kant, former head of Epidemiology in ICMR, India should wait for vaccines that will be affordable, easy to store and transport.
Similar sentiments were echoed by India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar on Monday when he said that India is at the heart of international and multilateral collaborations in evolving reliable vaccines to contain the Covid 19 virus.
Delivering keynote address at the Deccan Dialogue, Dr Jaishankar pointed out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has committed to the United Nations that India will help make vaccines accessible and affordable to all. “And believe me, from the regular conversations that I have with so many counterparts, the world is counting on us to do so,” he said.
Recalling India’s efforts in helping to check the spread of the deadly Corona virus, the Minister said that as demands for medicines – especially Hydroxychloroquine and Paracetamol – spiked, the country stepped up production and supplied 150 countries, more than half at its own cost.
“Today, the focus has shifted to rapid testing and reliable vaccines, both essential for a return to travel normalcy. And we are at the heart of international and multilateral collaborations in this regard,’’ he said.
India’s Health Ministry expects to receive and utilise 400 to 500 million vaccine does to cover nearly 25 crore people by July next year. Vaccine dispatches will have to reach at least 18 per cent of the Indian population within six months, health experts say.
According to experts, existing cold storage networks meet requirements of three vaccine candidates – from Bharat Biotech, ZydusCadila and Serum Institute of India (SII)– which are being tested for Indian conditions. Bangladesh has entered into a deal with the SII to acquire 30 million doses of the vaccine. BeximcoPharma of Bangladesh has signed a MoU with SII for priority delivery of the vaccine doses.