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Airlines will use their cargo facilities to distribute the vaccines. REUTERS
Airlines will use their cargo facilities to distribute the vaccines. REUTERS

Airlines work out transport logistics with vaccine firms

  • Both Air India and private airlines are coordinating the logistics with the vaccine producers

With the covid-19 vaccination drive expected to start next week, Indian airlines, among the worst-stricken by the pandemic, are gearing up to deliver millions of doses of the shots aimed at ending the pandemic.

A civil aviation ministry official said both Air India and private airlines are coordinating the logistics with the vaccine producers. Airlines will use their cargo facilities to distribute the vaccines, he said on condition of anonymity.

An Air India official said the airline is fully prepared to transport the vaccines although as of Thursday night, there was no word on when it will start.

Spokespersons for Delhi and Hyderabad airports, both of which are operated by GMR Group, said they are ready to handle and distribute the covid-19 vaccines. Delhi airport, the nation’s largest cargo hub, has two terminals equipped with facilities to handle temperature-sensitive shipments.

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According to the government’s distribution plan, manufacturers will first transport the vaccines to the four primary vaccine stores—at Karnal in Haryana, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai—and from there, it will be transported in bulk to the 37 state vaccine stores for further distribution to district vaccines stores. “Each state has prepared its priority group list of healthcare and frontline workers and sent them to the Centre and requested for the number of doses they require. This will be the determining factor for the distribution of the vaccines," said Samiran Panda, head of epidemiology and communicable diseases division of Indian Council of Medical Research. Panda is also a member of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC), which is tasked with coming out with strategies for fair distribution of vaccines.

On Sunday, Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech International’s Covaxin got emergency use authorization from Drugs Controller General of India V.G. Somani.

A person familiar with the development said a pact between the government and the two companies may be announced on Friday, following which the dispatches through airlines will start.

Both vaccines require storage at 2-8 degrees Celsius, and the shots have to be carefully stored in the range. Aviation industry officials said they are working with pharmaceutical companies and suppliers of temperature-controlled facilities to ensure proper handling at their facilities.

A spokesperson for GMR Hyderabad Air Cargo, an arm of GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd, said they were in talks with stakeholders to meet specific requirements of export and import of covid-19 vaccines.

“As per industry insights, most of India’s vaccine exports will be to Africa, Latin America and Asian destinations. Ingredients may be obtained from Europe and a few other regions," the spokesperson said, adding that Hyderabad was all set to emerge as a major port for covid-19 vaccines.

Globally, the United Nations Children’s Fund is working with manufacturers and partners on logistics and procurement of vaccines on behalf Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX Facility) led by Gavi, the vaccine alliance. Bharat Biotech’s headquarters and manufacturing facility, as well as some other vaccine makers like Hetero Biopharma and Biological E are located in Hyderabad. Serum Institute is based in Pune.

Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the vaccination drive may start by 13 January.

The government has started dry runs, and the second nationwide mock drill for vaccination will be held on Friday. The dry run will be held across 736 districts. Union health minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday interacted with state health ministers and officials to review the preparedness for the dry run.

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