With official approval accorded to two candidates for emergency use, India has entered the last leg of vaccine rollout for the first phase of inoculation, shifting the focus on to delivery mechanism and infrastructure. And, key to this would be the large network of cold chain points and equipment.
While the union ministry had earlier said the country has 28,932 cold chain points and 85,622 equipment, state-wise data accessed by TOI now shows that just six states with only a third of India’s population have more than 52% of the cold chain points and nearly 40% of all the equipment.
Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh together have 15,072 cold chain points and 33,126 equipment, while in terms of population — 2020 projections — these states together have 46.7 crore of the 137 crore people in India.
The Centre and states, however, are strengthening cold chain infrastructure and officials are confident of a smooth vaccination campaign.
“...Anticipating the flexible nature of the Covid-19 vaccine supply in terms of mixed products with different storage temperature ranges, plans for supply of additional cold chain equipment by the government of India are already in place for implementation,” the union ministry said as part of the vaccination SOP.
It added that cold chain assessments and gap analysis have been completed and that there are “plans in place for supplying additional cold chain equipment where required.” For instance, Karnataka which already has the second highest number of cold chain points in India, has got 64 large ice-lined refrigerators (ILRs) from the Centre additionally, while 866 additional small ILRs and 28 deep freezers are in the pipeline.
“A similar exercise is ongoing across states,” an official said, and a Maharashtra national health mission official confirmed the same to TOI.
Arguing that states will play a crucial role in ensuring these initiatives are implemented timely and with quality to ensure adequate cold chain system capacity for the Covid-19 vaccine campaign, the ministry said the process to identify additional sites for walk-in coolers (WICs) and walk-in freezers (WIF) as per the GoI distribution plan has already begun.
“Ensuring site readiness for installation of WIC/WIF at the designated sites, as per standard site readiness checklists, identification of district and sub district stores requiring additional cold chain equipment, based on population cohort-based vaccine estimation and additional cold chain space requirement and rapid supply of the additional cold chain equipment received to the identified stores with installation and functionalization are all happening parallelly," the ministry added.
Aside from this, UNICEF will support in cold chain assessment, planning for need based augmentation, procurement supply and installation of cold chain equipment, while the UNDP will support states, districts and blocks for microplanning, including cold chain and vaccine logistics planning.
Also, as reported by TOI earlier, India would need to augment its cold chain equipment of different types required to handle vaccines by 5.2 million to 11 million, as per the latest short and medium-term projections made by the ministry of health and family welfare under the universal immunisation programme.