To the list of precious commodities that are ferried with care and extra policing, a new item will be added soon — the Covid-19 vaccine.
State governments have been asked by the Centre to provide security and safety for cold chain storage spaces and vehicles carrying Covid-19 vaccines, to prevent leakage and possible theft, according to a State government official who has gone through the operational guidelines shared by the Centre.
As India prepares to start its Covid-19 vaccine programme, States have also been asked to ensure there is continuous flow of electricity and sufficient power back up for maintaining low temperature in cold-chain facilities.
States have also been asked to map their cold-chain equipment, walk-in-coolers and freezers and carry out maintenance to ensure that the facilities are functioning fine.
“A big challenge is going to be ensuring availability of functional, temperature-controlled storage facilities at village and taluka level. Having such facilities at a city level will not be as much of a challenge,” Chander Agarwal, MD, TCI Express, a company with experience in transporting vaccines in lower temperatures, told BusinessLine.
The Centre has sent a set of guidelines to the States and UTs to help them assess the dedicated cold chain infrastructure available for the Covid-19 vaccine in their States. Accordingly, the Centre can give them additional equipment. Uneven spread of warehouse locations is another challenge. “…the challenge is that the cold chain facility is not evenly spread across the country. Most of the cold chain warehousing facilities are available in Uttar Pradesh (14 Million MT), West Bengal (6 Million MT), Punjab (2 Million MT), Gujarat (3 Million MT) and Andhra Pradesh (1.8 Million MT). The other parts of the country are short of seamless cold chain system,” said Ambrish Kumar, Founder, Zipaworld, a start-up that provides freight rate visibility across various modes of transport.
Segregating cold chain
Also, to ensure that cold temperatures are maintained and glitches, if any are fixed, technicians will have to be readily available on call. This is important as earlier there have been cases of non-functioning cold storage facilities.
Moreover, cold-chain facilities for Covid-19 vaccines have to be segregated. In case of shortage of cold-chain equipment, dedicated space within the cold chain will have to be arranged.
“While there are cold-chain facilities for agricultural use, those facilities cannot be used for vaccine due to fear of contamination…,” explained an official. Compared to the cold-chain facilities used for agri-produce, vaccines vials would require lessser space.
“Also, within Covid-19 vaccine, we have to be careful to prevent intermixing of vaccines made by different manufacturers,” said another official. This could be done by allocating a specfic location to one manufacturer. This is required as vaccines are likely to be given in double dose (weeks apart). So, mix-ups between different product brands have to be avoided at all costs.