The countrywide COVID-19 vaccination drive was set in motion on Tuesday with vials of the Covishield vaccine being flown from Pune to 13 cities, including Bhubaneshwar, Patna, Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati.
The Union health ministry in a press briefing asserted that preparations for the vaccine rollout scheduled to begin from 16 January are on track and said that all doses —1.1 crore Covishield doses being procured from the Serum Institute of India and 55 lakh doses of Covaxin from Bharat Biotech India Limited — will be received by 14 January.
India on Tuesday recorded 12,584 new cases of coronavirus, the lowest in around seven months, taking the country’s COVID-19 caseload to1,04,79,179, as per the Union health ministry’s morning update. The toll increased to1,51,327 with 167 daily new fatalities, the data updated at 8 am showed.
The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 1,01,11,294 pushing the national COVID-19 recovery rate to 96.49 percent, while the case fatality rate stands at 1.44 percent.
The COVID-19 active caseload remained below 3 lakh. There are 2,16,558 active coronavirus infections in the country which comprises2.07percent of the total caseload, the data showed.
Covishield dispatch begins
Three temperature-controlled trucks rolled out of Serum Institute of India gates in Pune shortly before 5 am and moved towards the airport, about 15 km away, from where the vaccines were transported by planes across India.
The first consignment containing 2.64 lakh doses reached Delhi a few hours later on a Spicejet flight and was then taken to Delhi’s central storage facility at Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital (RGSSH) through a ‘green corridor’ amid high security, officials said.
Good news just flew in! The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines reached #DelhiAirport today. Our cargo terminal efficiently handled it through temperature-controlled technology, ranging from -20 Deg C to +25 Deg C. @MoCA_GoI @HardeepSPuri @AAI_Official pic.twitter.com/59AQsnCrIe
— Delhi Airport (@DelhiAirport) January 12, 2021
“This is a proud and historic moment as scientists, experts and all other stakeholders took great efforts while making this vaccine in less than a year,” SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said after the Covishield vaccine rolled out of the facility. He said there are plans to provide five to six crore more doses by February.
Poonawalla said the SII has offered the vaccine to the Central Government at a special price of Rs 200 and added that it will be made available for Rs 1,000 in the private market once SII gets requisite permissions.
“This is one of the most affordable vaccines in the world and we are offering it to the GoI at a special price just to support the prime minister’s vision and to support the ‘aam aadami’ of our country,” he said .
Another vaccine consignment on three trucks left SII for Mumbai in evening and will be sent from there to 27 places across the country on Wednesday.
Announcing the start of the vaccine movement earlier in the day, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter that four airlines were operating nine flights to transport 56.5 lakh doses of the vaccine from Pune to Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar, Patna, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Chandigarh.
SpiceJet said its consignments included 2,76,000 doses to Guwahati, 9,96,000 doses to Kolkata, 3,72,000 doses to Hyderabad, 4,80,000 doses to Bhubaneswar, 648,000 doses to Bengaluru, 552,000 doses to Patna and 408,000 doses to Vijayawada.
GoAir, another budget carrier, said it carried its first batch of 70,800 vials from Pune to Chennai. Air India said it carried its consignment of 2,76,000 vaccine doses, weighing 700 kg approximately, from Pune to Ahmedabad.
IndiGo transported the vaccines from Pune to Chandigarh (20,450 vials) and Lucknow, where Uttar Pradesh’s Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh and senior officials were present at the airport.
Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, who visited the airport in Ahmedabad, described the arrival of the vaccines as a “much-awaited moment”.
“The day has finally arrived. We are fully ready for the vaccination drive starting 16 January. Our officials received the consignment and took them to the state vaccine centre,” Odisha Additional Chief Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, PK Mohapatra said in Bhubaneswar.
“6.48 lakh doses packed in 54 boxes have been received in good condition and stored in a set temperature,” Karantaka Health Minister K Sudhakar was quoted as saying by his office in a release after he inspected the vaccines. On Wednesday, an additional 1.40 lakh doses of vaccine will be received in Belagavi, he added.
Bharat Biotech was also scheduled to dispatch vaccines from the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad on Tuesday evening, a senior official of the Airports cargo division said.
Mizoram Health secretary H. Lalengmawia told news agency PTI that a consignment of 18,500 doses of Covishield vaccines will soon arrive in the state.
The Kerala government said the state will receive the first consignment of over 4.33 lakh doses of Covishield vaccine to combat COVID-19 on Wednesday.
Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy said the COVID-19 vaccine will be made available to all people free of cost in the Union
Territory, and the vaccination drive would be held in three phases.
Covaxin to cost Rs 206 per dose, says health ministry
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said, till 4 pm, 54.72 lakh of the entire stock of COVID-19 vaccine doses ordered were received at designated national and state-level vaccine stores.
“Fifty-five lakh doses of Covaxin are being procured from Bharat Biotech. For 38.5 lakh doses, the price is Rs 295 each, excluding taxes. Bharat Biotech is providing 16.5 lakh doses for free which ultimately brings the cost of Covaxin down to Rs 206 per dose,” the Union health secretary said at a briefing in Delhi.
Bhushan said there are four Central Government Medical Stores Depots at Chennai, Karnal, Kolkata and Mumbai where the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, Covishield, doses are being received. Besides this, all states have at least one regional vaccine store. Some big states have multiple stores. Uttar Pradesh has nine such stores, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat four each, Kerala has three such facilities, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Rajasthan two each, he said.
Stating that there will be a gap of 28 days between two doses of COVID-19 vaccine and its effectiveness begins 14 days after the second dose, Bhushan urged people to continue following COVID-appropriate behavior even after innoculation.
Bhushan said for other vaccines — Zydus Cadila, Sputnik V, Biological E and Gennova— are in the pipeline and in advanced stages of clinical trials in India. “In the coming days you may see some of these vaccines approaching the drug controller for emergency use authorisation,” he said.
He said there will be a sequential roll-out of COVID-19 vaccination. “Healthcare workers will be on the top of the priority list, followed by frontline workers and prioritized age groups. The cost of vaccination for healthcare and frontline workers will be borne by the central government,” the Union health secretary said.
On the price of vaccines available around the world, Bhushan said each dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech costs Rs 1,431 per dose, Moderna Rs 2,348 to Rs 2,715, Sinovac Rs 1,027, Novavax Rs 1,114, Sputnik V less than Rs 734 and the one developed by Johnson&Johnson at Rs 734.
“All these vaccines except the one developed by Pfizer can be stored between two to eight degrees Celsius. The one developed by Pfizer needs to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius,” he added.
The health secretary also spoke about the five key principles for anti-coronavirus vaccination: to ensure people’s participation, utilise the experience of elections and universal immunisation programme, making no compromise on scientific and regulatory norms and on existing healthcare services.
Key principles for #COVID19vaccination:
1⃣ Ensure people’s participation
2⃣ Utilize the experience of elections & universal immunization program
3⃣ No compromise of existing healthcare services
4⃣ No compromise on scientific and regulatory norms#India4Vaccine pic.twitter.com/5vuCVBmMDT
— PIB India (@PIB_India) January 12, 2021
Bhushan also hinted that for now, the COVID vaccine recipients will not have the option to choose from the two vaccines recently approved for restricted emergency use in India. Replying to a question, Bhushan said, “At many places in the world, more than one vaccine are being administered, but presently, in no country, vaccine recipients have the option of choosing the shots.”
Noting that the COVID-19 situation is worrisome around the world with the graph of active cases climbing in the US, the UK, Brazil, Russia and South Africa which have a population which is much lesser than India, he said even though daily new cases are declining in India, there should not be any laxity in following COVID-appropriate behaviour.
India’s overall COVID-19 positivity rate stands at 5.7 percent while positivity rate in the last one week was recorded at 2 percent, Bhushan said, adding that about 43.96 percent of the total COVID-19 patients are in healthcare facilities while 56.04 percent are in home isolation.
Only two states with more than 50,000 cases contribute 54 percent of the active cases, Bhushan said. In Kerala the number of active cases are 63,547 and in Maharashtra, they are 53,463, he said.
▪️ 1.04 crore total cases; 7593 cases per million
▪️ 2.16 lakh active cases; contributes 2.07% of total cases
▪️ 1.51 lakh deaths; 109 deaths per million
▪️ 18.2 crore tests conducted; 132357 tests per million
— PIB India (@PIB_India) January 12, 2021
NITI Aayog member Dr V K Paul said that Covishield and Covaxin have been tested on thousands of people. “They are the safest and there is no risk of any significant side effect.”
Covishield is developed by Oxford University and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and manufactured by the SII. Bharat Biotech has developed the indigenous vaccine Covaxin in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology.
The government on Monday placed firm orders in advanced commitments for over six crore doses of COVID vaccines from SII and Bharat Biotech for inoculating three crore healthcare and frontline workers in the first phase. The cost is Rs 1,300 crore.
Interacting with chief ministers on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored the enormity of what he called the world’s biggest vaccination exercise. Over 30 crore citizens will get the jabs in the next few months in India against only 2.5 crore people vaccinated so far in over 50 countries in around a month, he said.
According to the listed agenda of the meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, the Union health secretary and the director general (DG) of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Tuesday briefed a Parliamentary panel on health on “Vaccine Development, Distribution Management and Mitigation of Pandemic COVID-19”. The committee is chaired by Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Ram Gopal Yadav.
Uttarkhand HC asks state to frame SOPs for Kumbh Mela
Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court asked the state government to conduct by 18 January a review meeting on the reservation of ICU beds in 33 private hospitals for COVID-19 patients.
The court, which was informed that the Delhi government has now reduced COVID-19 ICU beds reservation to 40 percent, said it will continue hearing the arguments next week on a plea by Association of Healthcare Providers (AHP) seeking quashing of the government’s 12 September order to reserve 80 percent ICU beds for COVID-19 patients in these hospitals.
Justice Navin Chawla listed the matter for further hearing on 19 January.
The Uttarakhand High Court has asked the state government to frame the standard operating procedure (SOP) for the upcoming Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and submit an action plan to the court on 13 January.
The Kumbh Mela will begin on 14 January and continue till 27 April. Lakhs of people usually converge to take a holy dip in the Ganges river during the event.
EMA considering Oxford’s request for vaccine approval
On the international front, the European Medicines Agency said on Tuesday that AstraZeneca and Oxford University have submitted an application for their COVID-19 vaccine to be licensed across the European Union, reported news agency AP.
The EU regulator said it received a request for the vaccine to be greenlighted under an expedited process and that it could be approved by 29 January “provided that the data submitted on the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine are sufficiently robust and complete.”
The EMA has already approved two other coronavirus vaccines, one made by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech and another made by US. biotechnology company Moderna. Switzerland approved the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday and plans to immunize about four percent of its population using that and the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.
WHO team probing virus origins to fly to Wuhan on Thursday
A 10-member team of WHO experts assigned to probe the origins of COVID-19 will directly fly from Singapore to the central Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing on Tuesday.
He, however, said he has no details whether the experts would have to undergo quarantine and what is their itinerary and how long the team would stay in Wuhan and directed the media to the relevant authorities.
WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan on Monday said the delayed mission, finally given the green light by Beijing, was about science, not politics.
“Understanding the origins of disease is not about finding somebody to blame,” Ryan told a press conference in Geneva. “It is about finding the scientific answers about the very important interface between the animal kingdom and the human kingdom. “It is an absolute requirement that we understand that interface. “We are looking for the answers here, not culprits and not people to blame.”
The novel coronavirus, which emerged in Wuhan last year, has so far infected 91,180,544 persons and claimed the 1,952,520 lives across the globe, as per the John Hopkin University’s tracker.
With inputs from agencies