India to kick off one of the world’s largest Covid vaccination drives

Health workers shift a box of Covid vaccine into cold storage at the Commissionerate of Health and Family Welfare in Hyderabad, India. Credit: AP

Words by Sanjay Jha for ITV News in Delhi

India is set to launch the world’s largest Covid-19 vaccination program this week, with over 3000 sites across country.

Around 100 people will be vaccinated at each site on the day of the launch.

The entire vaccination programme will use a specially created Co-WIN - an online digital platform developed by the Indian health department - which will facilitate real time information of vaccine stocks, storage temperature and individualised tracking of recipients.

Volunteers wait at a mock Covid vaccination site. Credit: AP

The Indian government had said it plans to inoculate some 300 million people in the first phase of the drive, including healthcare and other frontline workers.

About 150,000 staff in 700 districts have been specially trained, and India has held several national 'dry runs' involving the mock transportation of vaccines.

Experts have lauded the Indian government for rolling the programme out on such a huge scale.

“India’s expertise in vaccine manufacturing and experience with mass immunization campaigns has prepared it well for initial launch of vaccinations - set to begin this weekend,” Akhil Bery, South Asia analyst at Eurasia Group, wrote in a report.

India has approved the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab - made by local partner the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin - under its emergency use category.

To enable this massive roll out, a total of 29,000 cold-chain points, 240 walk-in coolers, 70 walk-in freezers, 45,000 ice-lined refrigerators, 41,000 deep freezers and 300 solar refrigerators have been kept at the ready.

India has four "mega depots" to take delivery of the vaccines and transport them to state distribution hubs in temperature-controlled vans, but the final leg will be tough.

India needs 660 million doses to vaccinate 300 million 'priority' individuals.

This is apart from the international commitments it needs to fulfill.