India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive has achieved a historic milestone of administering 1 billion vaccine doses. Around 75% of the eligible population (18+) has been given the first dose, while around 30% has been given both doses.
India has achieved this mark of 1 billion vaccine doses in less than 40 weeks. This milestone exemplifies India’s prowess in various elements in the vaccination journey – development of new vaccines, production of vaccines, deployment, and technology.
India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive was launched on 16 January 2021. But preparations had begun way back in April 2020 with the establishment of the National Task Force for Focused Research on Corona Vaccine. Indeed, a hallmark of India’s vaccination drive has been the high level oversight and coordination, particularly by the Prime Minister himself.
India prioritized vaccine development and launched ‘Mission Covid Suraksha’ to provide financial and technical support to indigenous vaccine manufacturers. This Mission is the force behind the world’s first DNA-based COVID vaccine Zycov-D, developed by Zydus Cadila, which will facilitate vaccination of children above 12 years. The Mission also supported the capacity development of Bharat Biotech and provided support for infrastructure and technology development for other public sector manufacturers.
Today, India is the only country that has developed multiple vaccines across multiple platforms (Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN uses an inactivated virus platform, Zycov-D is a DNA vaccine, Covishield a viral vector vaccine, Gennova is in the running for being India’s first mRNA vaccine).
For vaccine deployment and delivery, a comprehensive system of planning and implementation was put in place. Besides the National Task Force for Focused Research on Corona Vaccine, several expert advisory groups were set up at the highest level, including the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC) in August 2020, the Empowered Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (EGVAC) in January 2021, and the National Technical Advisory Group for Immunization (NTAGI) Working Group. India’s vaccination drive roll out was backed by recommendations of these expert groups.
The National Covid Vaccination Programme initially targeted the healthcare and frontline workers as well as senior citizens, due to their higher risk perception. Subsequently, the Programme was rolled out to include people above 45 years of age and with co-morbidities and later, all citizens above 45 years were included. In the ongoing phase, all adults above 18 years have been included and vaccination is being provided for free at public vaccination facilities. This implies about 940 million people have to be vaccinated with two doses each.
On the approval of Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), three vaccines have been utilized in the Programme (COVISHIELD developed by Serum Institute of India in collaboration with Astra Zeneca of the United Kingdom, COVAXIN of Bharat Biotech International Limited and SPUTNIK V of Russia).
Nearly all of the 1 billion doses administered have been Made-in-India, except for a miniscule proportion of Sputnik V (approximately 0.4 million doses). Moreover, more than 95% of those vaccine doses have been delivered by India’s public health system, a testimony to its reach and robustness. Nevertheless, private healthcare outlets have also been included in the implementation of the vaccination drive.
A critical contribution to India’s successful vaccination journey has been our experience with the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP). The cold chain system of UIP was leveraged and upscaled. Vaccines were stored at about 29,000 cold storage points and delivered across the country in more than 700 temperature controlled vehicles vehicles.
The cold chain supply lines are being managed using Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN). eVIN is an indigenously developed technology that digitizes vaccine stocks and monitors the temperature of the cold chain through a smartphone application.
India also developed aunique digital platform of CoWIN. The digital platform has made it possible to register beneficiaries, schedule their vaccination, generate QR Code based vaccine certificates and capture their vaccination history. In addition, it has also kept track of the entire implementation process including daily coverage and vaccine requirement across various Indian States.
The sheer expanse of the vaccination drive can be gauged from the fact that there are 313,000Covid Vaccination Centres across the country, of which 74% are at rural locations and account for 65% of the total coverage till now. Vaccination teams of 740,000persons,including more than 264,000 vaccinators, were trained for the task.
The 1 billion landmark also celebrates the indomitable spirit of India’s frontline health workers –the nurses, the Auxiliary Nurse Midwives and the thousands of vaccinators, who overcame challenges of terrain and weather to reach the remotest areas ensuring that no one is left behind. Vaccine delivery by Drones has also been recently piloted in the North-East region of the country. Special focus has been given on outreach to pregnant and lactating women, the destitute, vagabonds and other vulnerable groups. In addition, the programme now includes Workplace COVID Vaccination Centers, Near to Home Vaccination and Mobile Vaccination Units for easier accessibility. Prioritized vaccination of school teachers was also undertaken to ensure safe education for children.
By the end of 2021, we are looking at an increased monthly production of Covid-19 vaccines, a larger basket of vaccine options and a larger proportion of our population fully vaccinated. This would translate to a larger potential to share vaccines with the world, contributing toward realization of the Prime Minister’s vision of “One Earth, One Health”.