India dispatches first Covid vaccine doses to cities as mammoth inoculation drive begins

India will begin the world’s largest inoculation drive from 16 January

Shweta Sharma
Tuesday 12 January 2021 09:50 GMT
Health workers participate in a COVID-19 vaccine delivery system trial in Hyderabad, India, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021
Health workers participate in a COVID-19 vaccine delivery system trial in Hyderabad, India, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021 (AP)

The world’s largest vaccination drive is set to begin with India rolling out the first consignment of 5.65 million coronavirus vaccine dosages to 12 cities on Tuesday in boxes labelled "may all be free from disease." 

India will formally commence its inoculation programme from 16 January.

India has approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, also known as Covishield, to be distributed to various cities, including national capital Delhi, from vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India’s (SII) facilities.

Calling it a “momentous mission”, India’s aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said nine commercial flights from Pune with Covishield were flown to Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar, Patna, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Chandigarh.

India gave approval to Oxford’s Covishield and indigenous Covaxin vaccine for emergency use on 1 January. The country plans to inoculate 300 million people by early August, beginning with an estimated 10 million health workers.

Officials of SII, the biggest vaccine manufacturer in the world, dispatched 478 boxes of vaccine dosages in three temperature controlled trucks to the Pune airport after performing ceremonial prayers.

Meanwhile, the government has placed an additional order of 40.5 million dosages of AstraZeneca from SII, at a price of Rs 200 per jab, in addition to the earlier order of 10 million doses.

Indigenous Covaxin by local firm Bharat Biotech that courted controversy for its approval without third phase data would help inoculate 30 million healthcare and frontline workers in the first phase of the drive.  

The government also placed the order of 5.5 million doses of Covaxin to Bharat Biotech on Monday.

As India is set to start its large-scale inoculation drive, the country has been approached by Bangladesh, Myanmar and Mongolia for Covid-19 vaccines.  

A senior government official reported that prime minister Narendra Modi has asked authorities to support foreign countries under the aegis of the external affairs ministry in consultation with the pharmaceutical ministry, reported Hindustan Times.

Bangladesh and Myanmar have each ordered a supply of 30 million vials, while Nepal has asked to procure 12 million dosages from SII, according to reports.

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