At a time when the entire world is waiting to see which vaccine candidate passes the stress test and gets declared as the COVID-19 vaccine, India is utilising this time to ensure that the backend infrastructure is ready to deal with supply and storage challenges.
According to senior government sources, the union health ministry has asked states and union territories to start preparing for the vaccine supply chain, "There is a likelihood of introduction of a vaccine against COVID-19 in near future. New vaccine introduction in the system would require meticulous operational planning at all levels."
In a communication to state governments, Mission Directors of National Health Mission and the central health ministry said a robust mechanism for the storage of vaccines and maintenance of cold chains is imperative.
The Centre has stated that an introduction of a new vaccine would require meticulous operational planning and all non-functional cold chain equipments should be repaired, senior government sources said. Also, the Centre is planning to provide bulk storage cold chain equipment for vaccine storage to states.
“States have been further told to identify sites for bulk storage cold chain equipment and to keep ready all cold chain points for installation of new equipment,” senior government sources said.
The union health ministry, Niti Aayog, the department of pharmaceuticals, ICMR are together working along with states to ensure supply chain challenges are eased within time.
States and union territories have also been tasked to prepare an "alternate plan for cold chains to deal with emergencies. Taskforce meetings should be organised at the state, district and block levels, and most important that all concerned staff should be trained in vaccine and cold chain handling, said the government sources.
States, according to the government sources, have been asked to prepare "micro plans" for each district and block for conducting vaccination drives in the near future.
States have been asked to submit detailed plans, as per the central government communication by October 15. States reply will also have a plan on roll-out and preparedness for cold chains as well, government sources said.
Centre will ensure that states have bulk storage cold chain equipments like walk-in coolers/ walk-in freezers at the level of state vaccine stores/ regional vaccine stores at short notice. Supportive supervision mechanism is strengthened using mobile-based apps.
"States should identify sites at the present location of current vaccine stores for urgent installation of these equipments. Some of the other instructions given by the Centre include, "All non-functional cold chain equipment (CCE) should be repaired and made functional. The distribution of CCE should be rationalized and each cold chain point (CCP) should have the required number of cold chain equipment," sources added.
Each cold chain point should have two designated trained vaccine and cold chain handlers, one will be primary and the other will be alternate. All the concerned staff should be trained in vaccine and cold chain handling/ management. The entry of personnel trained should be entered in the Immunization Training Management System (iTMIS).
"A robust Planned Preventive maintenance (PPM) plan should be in place and PPM should be done using the standard checklists. The Standard stock and distribution registers should be in place and used along with Electronic Vaccine Intelligent Network (eVIN)," sources added.
eVIN is an indigenously developed technology system in India that digitizes vaccine stocks and monitors the temperature of the cold chain through a smartphone application.
"Alternate plan for cold chain and dry storage should be prepared for dealing with any cold chain related emergency situation e.g hiring of extra cold chain storage and integration with other health programs. Additional cold chain points may be identified and prepared to manage the increased burden if required,” government sources said.
States have been asked to train the staff including Vaccine and Cold Chain Handlers (VCCH), Vaccine and Cold Chain Managers (VCCM), programme managers and cold chain technology managers (CCTM). All the officials trained for the purpose will be updated in existing software called Immunisation Training Management System (iTMIS).
Meanwhile, the union health ministry on Monday launched an online portal about COVID-19 with all the latest information on the coronavirus disease. The web portal will have data on research development, clinical trials on potential COVID-19 vaccine in India, its launch date and other information, health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said.
Harsh Vardhan on September 28 visited the headquarters of ICMR and unveiled a timeline depicting ICMR’s historical achievements and inaugurated ICMR’s mobile stroke unit and a COVID Vaccine and Clinical Registry portal to be hosted by ICMR. He also launched the Vaccine Portal and portal on COVID Clinical Registry.
While emphasising on the importance of elaborate and transparent information on the status of vaccine development, he said, "The portal provides useful and important information related to vaccine development, ongoing clinical trials and progress made in this area locally and globally at regular intervals. Today, in the times of COVID, vaccine development is watched very closely. Thus, it becomes important to showcase the status of vaccine development in the country."