Vaccinating 300 million people: How India plans to roll-out vast Covid-19 vaccine drive

·2-min read

India this week granted approval for the emergency use of two Covid-19 vaccines, kicking off what could be the largest and most ambitious vaccination drive in history in a country with a population of 1.35 billion.

India has approved two vaccines: The AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine, known in the country as Covishield, and one developed locally, called Covaxin.

It aims to vaccinate some 300 million of its citizens by August, starting with healthcare and frontline workers and those aged over 50.

"The scale is, of course, enormous – it is 600 million doses across 36 states," Dr Rajib Dasgupta, a professor of community health at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told AFP.

"What this entails is working out transport, working out what's called cold chain logistics, which is cold chain space, working out additional syringe requirements, additional bio-medical waste disposal requirements, and so on."

To prepare for the rollout the country has embarked on a vast training programme with more than 100,000 workers learning how to administer vaccines, and help with logistics and administration.

It has also conducted a nationwide vaccination drill with health workers given dummy vaccines at hundreds of sites across the country.

Despite the scale of the task, India holds some advantages. Its Serum Institute, the world's largest vaccine maker, is producing the AstraZeneca vaccine locally and has already stockpiled 50 million doses, ready to distribute to vaccination centres.

The country also has experience in large vaccination programmes, with its Universal Immunization Program inoculating about 55 million people per year against various diseases.

But concerns have been raised by the government's rush to approve the locally made Covaxin.

Full efficacy data for the vaccine has yet to be released with Phase III trials still being conducted, and some opposition politicians and health experts have questioned if the vaccine can be deemed safe without more data.