Though the Indian drug regulator DGCI is yet to give an emergency-use authorisation for any COVID-19 vaccine, the country’s largest airport in Delhi is gearing up to handle distribution of lakhs of vials under Project Sanjivani as early as next month.
On Tuesday, Delhi Airport Chief Executive Officer Videh Kumar Jaipuriya said they have been in touch with the government, and “as per government indications, we should be ready for distribution sometime in January”.
Talking to NDTV, Mr Jaipuriya said specific sections of the cargo terminal at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport have been allotted for the storage and transportation of the temperature-sensitive vaccines.
“The airport has cold chambers which can store at least 27 lakh vials at a given point and up to 80 lakh vials can be transported per day,” he added.
There are two cold chambers in the main cold storage area – one can maintain -20 degrees Celsius and could be useful for the Moderna vaccine when it comes to India, and the other is a 2-8 degrees section needed for vaccines from Oxford and Bharat Biotech.
However, the airport does not have the infrastructure needed to maintain -70 degrees for the Pfizer vaccine that’s being used in the UK, where a new and more aggressive strain of the novel coronavirus has been detected.
“We have storage facility to maintain up to -20 degrees Celsius, but not -70 degrees. But, as per Pfizer’s own statement, their containers will be designed to maintain -70 degrees for 30 days if they are refilled with dry ice. Otherwise they can also be maintained at 2-8 degree Celsius for 5 days,” Mr Jaipuriya said indicating that the airport would be able to handle its distribution if the need arises.
The Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, both, have applied for emergency use approval in India, but have been asked for more data. Pfizer had also applied to the DGCI, but it is yet to make a presentation. Moderna is yet to apply.
“The Serum Institute of India has submitted fresh data and Bharat Biotech is also in the process,” Dr VK Paul, Chairperson of National Expert Committee on Vaccine Administration said today.
Talking about how the large containers of lakhs of vials would be moved from cold storage to aircrafts while maintaining the temperature, the IGI Chief Executive Officer said the airport has specially designed, temperature-controlled containers or “Cool Dollies”.
Temperature-controlled roller belts that can bear the weight of heavy items would be used to transport these “cool dollies” from the storage area to the runway.
The airport has also dedicated separate pathways or “green channels” for passage of vaccine trucks for faster movement.
On Monday, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan had said India could start Covid inoculation drive in any week of January, and about three crore frontline workers would be the first to get a shot.
India, the second worst hit country in the world in terms of absolute numbers, has more than 1 crore cases of COVID-19 with about 14.5 lakh related deaths.