NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India is set to roll out a COVID-19 vaccination programme by next week, aiming to cover 300 million people by July, its top health official said in what would be one of the world’s largest inoculation drives against the coronavirus.
Authorities have readied some 29,000 cold storage facilities across the country and large scale vaccination dry-runs have been conducted in 125 districts encompassing all states, federal health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said on Tuesday.
“A final call will be taken by the government,” Bhushan told a press briefing when asked about a specific roll-out date.
India’s drug regulator on Sunday approved two vaccines -including the one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University – for emergency use, also drawing interest from other developing countries scouting for COVID-19 shots.
Bhushan said there was no ban on vaccine exports, clarifying media reports that the government had imposed restrictions to ensure domestic vaccine requirements are met first.
India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker, and its pharmaceutical industry has been freeing up capacity and pushing ahead with investments to help support a global vaccination campaign.
But India’s government has not announced any purchase agreement with either of the two approved vaccine makers: Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India, which will manufacture the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot.
Under the current plan, vaccines will be first delivered by manufacturers to four key storage facilities and then moved to 37 state-level stores, Bhushan said.
From there, the shots will be transported by road to hundreds of districts, where local officials will vaccinate pre-registered healthcare workers at designated facilities.
In the eastern state of Odisha, for example, authorities have prepared a database of more than 300,000 healthcare workers who would be vaccinated across 3,898 facilities by five-member teams, according to a government document.
In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, six main vaccine stores have been created along with 41 district and city-level storage facilities.
Gujarat Health Commissioner Jaiprakash Shivahare said the state now had storage capacity for more than 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. “This is in addition to the existing vaccines,” he said. “We are fully ready to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine.”
(Additional reporting by Sumit Khanna in AHMEDABAD and Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Mark Heinrich)