India’s vaccine distribution challenge, explained in five charts

When the covid-19 pandemic began spreading, India, like most other countries, was left scrambling for protective gear and medical equipment to manage the crisis. As the world prepares itself for the launch of vaccines that are expected to bring the pandemic to an end, India may be better prepared at least on one count. As the world’s leading vaccine manufacturer, India may have better access to vaccines than many other parts of the developing world. Serum Institute of India (SII) alone is a producer of more than 1.5 billion vaccine doses every year and is expected to produce 1 billion doses of the Novavax vaccine by 2021.

Yet, distributing the vaccines in India’s first mass adult vaccination drive might prove to be a daunting task. It will require expansion of India’s existing cold chain capacity at a break-neck speed, especially in some of the more densely populated parts of the country, where such infrastructure is severely limited. It will also require addressing gaps in India’s existing vaccine distribution network, which a health ministry report flagged a couple of years ago.

India’s health minister has said that the government aims to inoculate 300 million most vulnerable people by August 2020. This translates to 600 million doses till August, a target that may be hard to attain, given India’s state of cold storage infrastructure such as depots and refrigerated vans.

It may be possible to administer 550-600 million doses only over the course of 2021, given the bottlenecks in India’s cold chain infrastructure, wrote Anubhav Aggarwal and Sayantan Maji of Credit Suisse in a report on India’s vaccination plan last month.

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