Logistical challenges and other factors to push the mass roll-out of the vaccine till 2021 end: Experts


Covid-19 vaccines will take at least till the end of 2021 to become available to common people in India owing to logistical challenges and other factors, despite a vaccine likely getting regulatory approval by this year, said experts involved in vaccine development.

Priority vaccination, logistical challenges to delivery and limited efficacy may attribute to delaying the roll out dates for mass use of Covid-19 vaccines.

In India, Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute of India and Zydus Cadila have started their Phase-3 trials and data from these companies are expected in the next two months.

Global vaccine development has picked up a faster pace in countries such as the US, where Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer are rushing ahead with their vaccine development, with Pfizer expected to present its trial data by the end of October.

“We will see readouts from the Phase-3 efficacy trials before the end of the year. And as soon as efficacy results are available, we will see these companies apply for Emergency Authorisation. So, if they get licence, and many companies are already manufacturing at risk, we may see doses available by 2021.”

~Gagandeep Kang, Vice chair of the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation

However, when this happens, the available doses will be limited in supply, Kang said.

It is believed that Healthcare workers and essential workers will be the first to be given the doses of the vaccine, as governments across the world have started pre-ordering vaccines and also coming out with a priority list on who will get the vaccines first.

Another challenge that companies are going to face is regarding production and distribution. For instance, countries like India face cold storage and supply chain issues.

A recent report by logistics firm DHL and consulting company McKinsey pointed out that in the next two years, to ensure global coverage, there would be a need of 200,000 movements by pallet shippers on 15,000 flights. In downstream distribution, ensuring stringent temperature requirements will be even more challenging, it said.

The DHL-McKinsey report said, “Large parts of Africa, South America and Asia could not be readily supplied at scale due to lack of cold chain logistics capacity suitable for life science products. Governments and NGOs would need to implement special measures to ensure vaccine distribution”.

With trial timelines shortening due to the urgency of the pandemic, a few scientists developing the Covid-19 vaccine are of the opinion that the potency and efficacy remained a challenge. Thus, certain groups like the elderly and people with comorbidities might not get the initial doses unless studies definitively prove it is safe for them.

The World Health Organisation’s COVAX initiative, which looks into making vaccines available to low- and middle-income countries, also talks about initial doses for countries where 20% of the populations from each country could get vaccinated by the end of 2021.

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