India is running the largest COVID vaccination program in the World, where we will be covering all the 139 Crore citizens in gradual manner. However, there were very few people, who were optimistic about an Indian vaccine when COVID struck us last year.
Most of the people were thinking that it may take couple of years to develop a vaccine, and India may be dependent on foreign vaccines to cure this disease. However, call it a miracle or something else, India has launched 2 fully developed vaccines by January this year and many vaccine candidates are currently in their final trials, past that those vaccines will also be launched in the market.
We are pretty much sure that many of you would have got your Vaccination done by now. Though we feel it is important to understand the timeline of COVID vaccine development in India, as this will help u understand the kind of efforts and hard work committed by our Scientists, Pharma experts, and the Modi government. It certainly didn’t happen overnight, in this article, we walk you through some crucial meetings and activities which made it possible in such a short span of time.
It all started on 29th April 2020, when the Modi government constituted a task force to provide the support and necessary development framework for any possible vaccine rollouts in the future. Serum Institute Chief Poonawalla tweeted this last year to confirm the resolve of the Modi government to develop a COVID vaccine on an urgent basis.
On 5th May 2020, PM Modi chaired the meeting of this task force and cleared most of the hurdles suggested by different vaccine manufacturers. Government conducted the discussions and deliberations with other countries as well to enhance its understanding on this matter. PM Modi did tweet this on 5th May 2020.
Modi Government fast-tracked all the approvals and other regulatory compliance stuff to ensure no more hurdles impact the work. Modi government also ensured that all the communication channels are streamlined and made responsive. The encouragement and respect was reciprocated by the industry and scientific community as well.
On June 30,2020 all the stakeholders were still planning and preparing for vaccination against Covid-19, as and when the vaccine was available. PM Modi enunciated four guiding principles to form the foundation of the national effort.
- Vulnerable groups should be identified and prioritized for early vaccination, for example, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers,non-medical frontline corona warriors, and vulnerable people among the general population.
- Vaccination of “anyone, anywhere” should take place. That means the vaccination will happen without the imposition of any domicile-related restrictions for getting the vaccine.
- Vaccination must be affordable and universal, and no person should be left behind.
- The entire process from production to vaccination should be monitored and supported in real-time with the use of technology.
The turnaround came on 13th June, when Serum CEO Poonawala declared that he has signed a deal with AstraZeneca to manufacture their product for India and GAVI countries, up to a billion doses annually. This will ensure supply and access to all Indians.
Another big breakthrough came on July 15th, when Bharat Biotech initiated the Phase-1 clinical trials for their COVID vaccine COVAXIN.
Jul 21, 2020, Poonawalla confirmed that Vaccine to be called Covishield and to be distributed by Govt to for free. It was also confirmed that few million vaccine doses will be manufactured by Nov-Dec and 300 million doses by Jan-Mar 2021.
Modi Govt was well aware of the way ahead and preparing accordingly.
On Aug 12,2020, the Modi Govt sets up National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) which meets for the first time on Aug 12. The group deliberates on conceptualization and implementation of a robust mechanism for creation of a digital infrastructure for inventory management and delivery mechanism of the vaccine including tracking of vaccination process with particular focus on last mile delivery.
Poonawalla was very much aware of the process and he was extremely impressed with the manner Modi Government was handling this entire process, hence he appreciated the government.
Oct 15,2020 Modi government set up the mechanisms for adequate procurement, and technologies for bulk-stockpiling of vaccines, filling vials for distribution, regulatory reforms, and effective delivery methods were discussed along with Government facilitation and support for Indian vaccine developers and manufacturers.
Oct 17,2020 PM Modi chaired another meeting to discuss matters related to advanced planning of cold storage chains, distribution network, monitoring mechanism, advance assessment, and preparation of ancillary equipment required, such as vails, syringes.
On Oct 23,2020 Bharat Biotech received DGCI approval to initiate the Phase-3 trial for its COVAXIN.
On Nov 20, 2020 PM Modi again reviewed various issues like prioritization of population groups, reaching out to HCWs, cold-chain Infrastructure augmentation, adding vaccinators and tech platform for vaccine roll-out.
On Dec 07, 2020, the big breakthrough came when Serum Institute applied for emergency use authorization for the first made-in-India vaccine, COVISHIELD.
On January 1st, 2021, Serum Institute got the approvals from DGCI, whereas on 2nd Jan 2021, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin secured a similar approval. With that, the Government was ready for the roll-out.
Here, an interesting fact very rare people know, that between Dec 2020-Jan 2021 Government carried out several Dry runs to check the processes and methods are in place for a seamless roll-out. The government performed complete testing of the system involving all components of the process, before delivery to the actual end-users.
First Shipments for Vaccines for the vaccination drive stating on Jan 16 2021.
On Jan 16, 2021, Indian kicks off the Worlds largest vaccination drive. In the first phase, the healthcare and frontline workers were getting vaccinated.
Different Phases of vaccination.
- This phase was started on 16th January, it involved the health workers and frontline workers including police, paramilitary forces, sanitation workers, and disaster management volunteers.
- From 1st March, the next phase of the vaccine rollout covered all residents over the age of 60 years.
- From 1st April, the 3rd phase was rolled out, where all the people of age group between 45 yrs to 60 were included.
- From 1st May onwards, vaccination was open for everyone above the age of 18 years.
Well, this is not just a story of sheer hard work and determination of our scientists and government. It is a saga of the resolve we have taken last year. When nobody was having any sort of expectations from India, we did take the resolve and developed multiple COVID vaccines in such a short time. this speaks a lot about the rigorous planning and coordination among all the stakeholders, who made it possible for us.