Delhi is geared up for the COVID-19 vaccination programme and the city's entire population can be covered in a month if hospital staff and nurses are involved, State Immunization Officer Suresh Seth said Thursday.
"We have 600 cold storage points and around 1,800 outreach sites for the universal immunization programme for children. We have sufficient equipment for vaccines that can be stored at a temperature of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius and those that need minus 15 to minus 25 degrees Celsius.
The central government is further strengthening the infrastructure and providing more equipment," Seth told PTI.
He said the equipment and infrastructure for vaccines that need ultra-cold conditions (minus 70 degrees Celsius) are not there, but "we don't think there will be any problem logistically because the immunization programme will be carried out in a phased manner".
"If we involve hospital staff and nurses etc, we can easily vaccinate the entire population in a month," he said, adding that at present, the Delhi government is collecting data of health care workers who are at top of the priority list of the Delhi government.
"If a vaccine is available, we can administer it to all healthcare workers in just three days... We have sufficient equipment and cold storage space, we are geared up. We won't let Delhi falter," Seth stressed. On their part, experts said that Delhi has sufficient infrastructure and equipment to effectively cover its entire population. Dr Ajit Jain, the nodal officer for COVID-19 at Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty hospital, said, "Being the national capital, it has got the equipment and capacity. All we need is trained manpower to carry out the immunization programme effectively."
The extreme low temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius required for storing a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer poses a big challenge for its delivery in a developing nation like India, especially in its smaller towns and rural areas where maintaining such cold chain facilities would be very difficult, experts have said.
However, drugmaker Moderna says its vaccine candidate is stable at regular freezer temperature - minus 20 degrees Celsius - for up to six months, and after thawing it can last in the refrigerator for 30 days. It can also be kept at room temperature for up to 12 hours. Also, the vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca "can be easily administered in existing healthcare systems, stored at 'fridge temperature' and distributed using existing logistics", according to Oxford University. Most vaccines in India need to be stored at a temperature of two to eight degrees Celsius.
The lowest minimum temperature at which vaccines can be kept to maintain the cold chain in most areas in the country is minus 25 degrees Celsius, AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria had said recently. NK Ganguly, former Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research, said there is "enough infrastructure" available across the country to store a Covid-19 vaccine at a temperature of two to eight degrees Celsius.
"We have enough number of refrigerated vans to transport the vaccine from one place to another,” he said.
"There is only one vaccine in India - the Rotavirus vaccine from Bharat Biotech - that needs to be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius. The company has made arrangements for its storage and transport. We don't have the equipment and infrastructure for anything that needs to be stored below this temperature," he pointed out.
The vaccine by Pfizer is not made for developing countries like India. "It is priced at USD 1,500. In India, the price should be below Rs 500," he said.
"In Delhi, there will be no problem in terms of storage and distribution if a Covid-19 vaccine needs to be stored at a temperature of two to eight degrees Celsius," Ganguly said.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had last week said there should not be "VIP or non-VIP categories" for vaccinating people against COVID-19 as everyone's life is important and priority should instead be given to "corona warriors", vulnerable groups such as senior citizens, and those having comorbidities.
He had also said that it was likely that the distribution plan of the vaccination will be prepared by the central government, but he would prefer "priority-based" vaccination which is "technical rather than political in nature".
"First priority should be given to corona warriors as they are working hard during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Second priority should be given to those who are vulnerable groups like senior citizens and then those who have comorbidities," he had said.