A massive pan-India inoculation drive against COVID-19 was set in process on Tuesday with more than 56 lakh doses of the Covishield vaccine flown to 13 cities across India from Pune and taken to designated national and state-level stores amid tight security.
With the vaccinations scheduled to begin on January 16 starting with healthcare and frontline workers in the first phase, the Centre said all the vaccine vials -- 1.1 crore of Covishield from the Serum Institute of India and 55 lakh of Covaxin from Bharat Biotech -- will be received by January 14.
'Puja' was performed before three temperature-controlled trucks rolled out of Serum Institute of India gates in Pune shortly before 5 am and moved towards the airport, about 15 km away, from where the vaccines were transported by planes across India.
The first consignment containing 2.64 lakh doses reached Delhi a few hours later on a Spicejet flight and was then taken to Delhi's central storage facility at Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital (RGSSH) through a 'green corridor' amid high security, officials said.
"This is a proud and historic moment as scientists, experts and all other stakeholders took great efforts while making this vaccine in less than a year," SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said after the vaccine rolled out of the facility.
He said there are plans to provide five to six crore more doses by February.
Poonawalla said the SII has offered the vaccine to the central government at a special price of Rs 200.
"This is one of the most affordable vaccines in the world and we are offering it to the GoI at a special price just to support the Prime Minister's vision and to support the 'aam aadami' of our country," he added.
He also said that once the SII gets the requisite permission, the vaccine will be made available in the private market for Rs 1,000.
Another vaccine consignment on three trucks left SII for Mumbai in evening and will be sent from there to 27 places across the country on Wednesday.
Announcing the start of the vaccine movement earlier in the day, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter that four airlines were operating nine flights to transport 56.5 lakh doses of the vaccine from Pune to Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar, Patna, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Chandigarh.
SpiceJet said its consignments included 276,000 doses to Guwahati, 996,000 doses to Kolkata, 3,72,000 doses to Hyderabad, 480,000 doses to Bhubaneswar, 648,000 doses to Bengaluru, 552,000 doses to Patna and 408,000 doses to Vijayawada.
GoAir, another budget carrier, said it carried its first batch of 70,800 vials from Pune to Chennai.
Air India said it carried its consignment of 2,76,000 vaccine doses, weighing 700 kg approximately, from Pune to Ahmedabad.
IndiGo moved the vaccines from Pune to Chandigarh (20,450 vials) and Lucknow, where Uttar Pradesh's Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh and senior officials were present at the airport.
Prayers were offered again at the airport before the dispatching of the container to a vaccine storage facility in the state capital.
Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, who visited the the airport in Ahmedabad, described the arrival of the vaccines as a 'much-awaited moment'.
"The day has finally arrived. We are fully ready for the vaccination drive starting January 16. Our officials received the consignment and took them to the state vaccine centre," Odisha Additional Chief Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, P K Mohapatra said in Bhubaneswar.
Apart from the 1.1 crore doses of Covishield being procured from the Serum Institute of India, 55 lakh doses of indigenously developed Covaxin were being obtained from Bharat Biotech, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said at a press conference in Delhi.
"Fifty-five lakh doses of Covaxin are being procured from Bharat Biotech. For 38.5 lakh doses, the price is Rs 295 each, excluding taxes. Bharat Biotech is providing 16.5 lakh doses for free which ultimately brings the cost of Covaxin down to Rs 206 per dose," he said.
Bharat Biotech was also scheduled to dispatch vaccines from the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad on Tuesday evening, a senior official of the Airports cargo division said.
Bhushan said there are four Central Government Medical Stores Depots at Chennai, Karnal, Kolkata and Mumbai where the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, Covishield, doses are being received.
Besides this, all states have at least one regional vaccine store. Some big states have multiple stores. Uttar Pradesh has nine such stores, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat four each, Kerala has three such facilities, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Rajasthan two each, he said.
He said there will be a gap of 28 days between two doses of COVID-19 vaccine and its effectiveness begins 14 days after the second dose.
"So we urge people to keep following COVID appropriate behaviour," he said.
NITI Aayog member Dr V K Paul said that Covishield and Covaxin have been tested on thousands of people.
"They are the safest and there is no risk of any significant side effect."
Bhushan said Zydus Cadila, Sputnik V, Biological E and Gennova are the other vaccines in advanced stages of clinical trials in India.
"In the coming days you may see some of these vaccines approaching the drug controller for emergency use authorisation," he said.
He said there will be a sequential roll-out of COVID-19 vaccination.
"Healthcare workers will be on the top of the priority list, followed by frontline workers and prioritized age groups. The cost of vaccination for healthcare and frontline workers will be borne by the central government," the Union health secretary said.
On the price of vaccines available around the world, Bhushan said each dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech costs Rs 1,431 per dose, Moderna Rs 2,348 to Rs 2,715, Sinovac Rs 1,027, Novavax Rs 1,114, Sputnik V less than Rs 734 and the one developed by Johnson and Johnson at Rs 734.
"All these vaccines except the one developed by Pfizer can be stored between two to eight degrees Celsius. The one developed by Pfizer needs to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius," he added.
The health secretary said the five key principles for anti-coronavirus vaccination are to ensure people's participation, utilise the experience of elections and universal immunisation programme, making no compromise on scientific and regulatory norms and on existing healthcare services.
The government on Monday placed firm orders in advanced commitments for over six crore doses of COVID vaccines from SII and Bharat Biotech for inoculating three crore healthcare and frontline workers in the first phase. The cost is Rs 1,300 crore.
Interacting with chief ministers on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored the enormity of what he called the world's biggest vaccination exercise.
Over 30 crore citizens will get the jabs in the next few months in India against only 2.5 crore people vaccinated so far in over 50 countries in around a month, he said.
Covishield is developed by Oxford University and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and manufactured by the SII.
Bharat Biotech has developed the indigenous vaccine Covaxin in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology.
India has so far reported 1,04,79,179 COVID-19 cases and 1,51,327 deaths. The active caseload remained below three lakh.