India could have multiple COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution by early next year. Given the rate of increase in cases of the virus, will India’s health infrastructure be able to roll out the vaccine across the country in sufficient doses to make an impact?
“We’re expecting that early next year, we should have vaccine in the country from maybe more than one source,” claimed Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. “Our expert groups are already formulating and devising strategies to plan on how to roll out the distribution of the vaccines in the country, who do we give the vaccine first and then of course we are strengthening the cold chain facilities.”
The issue has been raised that the vaccine must be delivered to a large segment of India’s billion-strong population — a logistical nightmare given the need for rapid deployment. This not only presents a gargantuan task for India’s healthcare infrastructure, which is notoriously patchy in rural regions, but also presents a major supply challenge.
Dr Vardhan made reference to this issue, noting the potential for the use of several different vaccines from multiple different manufacturers to ease the burden on a single supplier. “We are open to assessing the feasibility of introducing several COVID-19 vaccines in the country as per their availability for the Indian population,” said Dr Vardhan.
There are currently a number of options being trialled domestically in India, with current vaccines all being marked as requiring multiple doses, further adding to the supply requirements. COVID-19 vaccines currently in trial in India are all either two dose or three dose. The vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech require two doses while the Cadila Healthcare vaccine requires three doses.
India’s COVID-19 burden would appear to be subsiding — at least for now. The active caseload has now reduced to below 900,000, falling consistently since its peak of more than a million cases on September 16th. There are, however, fears that cases could again skyrocket during the winter flu season.
For the coming months, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has warned that Delhi needs to be prepared for about 15,000 fresh cases of COVID-19 per day. This takes into account the upcoming winter season-related respiratory problems, a large influx of patients from outside the region and festive gatherings.
The vaccines will be a vital component in finally addressing the pandemic. However, it is important that the vaccine is thoroughly tested before rollout. Should it be ineffective, or cause severe side effects, it has the potential to considerably reduce vaccine confidence. This, in turn, would diminish the potential for vaccination campaigns against other diseases in the future.