Vaccine procurement to be done centrally: Govt panel

An expert panel tasked with drafting a roadmap for procuring, financing and distributing a potential coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine for mass immunisation decided on Wednesday that all procurement will be done centrally and that each consignment will be tracked realtime until delivery to ensure it reaches those who need it most.

The first meeting of the panel, headed by Niti Aayog member (health) VK Paul, also discussed the maintenance of a cold chain during distribution and storage to ensure vaccine viability, inventory, resource mobilisation, and ensuring equitable access.

Details of the first meeting of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 were released on Wednesday by the Union health ministry, which also announced the setting up a state-of-the-art digital infrastructure to track last-mile delivery of the vaccine and stock position on a realtime basis.

“The Committee also advised all the States not to chart separate pathways of procurement. The expert group deliberated on conceptualization and implementation mechanisms for creation of a digital infrastructure for inventory management and delivery mechanism of the vaccine including tracking of vaccination process with particular focus on last-mile delivery,” the health ministry said in a statement.

The members decided that India would support its key neighbours and development partner countries for Covid-19 vaccines. It will leverage domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity and engage with international entities for early delivery of a vaccine not only within the country, but also in low and middle income countries as and when it is ready for mass use.

Unlike other countries India hasn’t yet struck pre-approval deals with vaccine makers (the US and the UK have deals with multiple ones) . It is, however, a member of the Covax platform of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, WHO and CEPI, and is eligible to receive vaccines covering 20% of its population through this mechanism by the end of 2021. It is also widely believed that at some point, the government will sign a deal with the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, which will be making several of the Covid-19 vaccines under licence.

“There is going to be intense global competition for Covid-19 vaccine procurement, so it’s not a bad time to start planning; even though we can’t be sure which vaccine candidate will win or probably none would. It’s like a game of chess, and you need to plan a lot even though you can’t be sure how the game will eventually play out. Having said that, you do need to get your logistics in place,” said Dr K Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India.

Russia on Tuesday launched a Covid-19 vaccine called Sputnik, described by President Vladimir Putin as the world’s first. According to WHO, there are six vaccine candidates in Phase 3 or Phase2-3 combined trials around the world and roughly another 120 in various stages of clinical testing.

The expert group has referred the matter of selection of the right vaccine candidate for use in the country to the Standing Technical Sub-Committee of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI). NTAGI is an advisory committee comprising multidisciplinary groups of experts advising the government on vaccine and immunization policy based on available evidence.

The expert group has sought inputs on vaccine candidates, both indigenously and internationally manufactured, from NTAGI.

“…They discussed on broad parameters guiding the selection of Covid-19 vaccine candidates for the country and sought inputs from NTAGI. The group delved on the procurement mechanisms for Covid-19 vaccine, including both indigenous and international manufactured, along with guiding principles for prioritization of population groups for vaccination,” the ministry’s statement added.

The Covid-19 vaccine can be delivered using any of the already existing delivery platforms as India already has a robust national immunisation programme running, offering protection against 12 vaccine-preventable diseases.

The committee also considered other issues related to logistics such as cold-chain infrastructure , and how to address equitable access to the vaccine.

“Issues related to vaccine safety and surveillance were taken up and strategy for community involvement through transparent information and awareness creation were discussed,” said the ministry statement.

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