COVID-19 Immunisation Programme | UPSC

COVID-19 Immunisation Programme | UPSC


Delivery of COVID-19 vaccines poses a huge challenge

      WHY IN NEWS:

Most of the COVID-19 vaccines, the RNA vaccines in particular, require –70 degrees C to –80 degree C cold-chain

MINISTRY? :- Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 3:Health:Diseases


The government recently said it will procure the vaccine and distribute it under a special COVID-19 immunisation programme.


  • The existing system used in the routine immunisation programme may be able to handle the vaccines.

The vaccine will be distributed initially to four categories of people, free-of-charge.

The priority groups named are

  1. Healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses and ASHA workers.
  2. Frontline workers including police and armed forces
  3. Aged above 50
  4. Finally those below 50 years of age with co-morbidities.


  • HARD CHOICES : All of those sounds like a simple rank-ordering, but it is not.Hard choices may need to be made.
  • PRIORITY GROUP : When there is insufficient supply to offer vaccines to all who would otherwise qualify, which group will be prioritised?
  • DEMOGRAPHIC STUDY : Deciding whom to vaccinate first may be dictated by the characteristics of the vaccines that become initially available.

COVID-19 Immunisation Programme | UPSC

COVID-19 Immunisation Programme | UPSC



  • COLD CHAIN SUPPLIES : But a bigger challenge comes in the form of keeping the vaccines at ultralow temperatures during distribution.
  • STORAGE DEVICES : Most of the COVID-19 vaccines, the RNA vaccines in particular, that are in the advanced stage of Phase-3 trials require –70 degrees C to –80 degree C cold-chain.

The Ebola vaccine, too, requires the same kind of cold storage.

  • MILLIONS OD DOSES : We need tens and hundreds of millions of doses, It will be not be feasible to export the vaccine at a constant rate.
  • INCREASE THE STABILITY : Attempts are being made to modify the vaccines and increase their stability to suit the storage conditions that already exist in many parts of the world.

COVID-19 Immunisation Programme | UPSC


  • STORAGE EQUIPMENTS : In India we have never had this kind of storage requirement and building the infrastructure for ultra-cold storage requires considerable resources.
  • ELECTRICITY : We need not just the freezers, but also uninterrupted power supply.
  • DISTRIBUTION HUB : We also may need to decide whether vaccines that require this form of storage should be used only in cities where such facilities can be built.

It may make sense to even think about bringing people to the vaccine, instead of taking the vaccine to people in some settings.

  • LOGISTICS : The decision to use a COVID-19 vaccine will need to take into consideration logistics and infrastructure needed to distribute and deliver vaccines.

The Oxford vaccine does not require ultracold temperatures, and hence, the existing system used in the routine immunisation programme may be able to handle the vaccines.

  • THE NUMBER OF DOSES : The next biggest challenge might be in vaccinating people with two doses four weeks apart during the pandemic.

Most of the vaccines at advanced stages of Phase-3 trial use two doses of the vaccine to achieve best results.

  • ORAL VS INJECTABLE VACCINE : Although oral vaccines are much easier to deliver than injectable vaccines, the logistics of storage, transport and delivery are similar.


  • BIGGER OUTREACH : While the national immunisation programme is limited to vaccinating children, COVID-19 vaccination will be across age groups, including older people.

It remains to be seen how well the lessons learnt from the national immunisation programme can be replicated for other age groups.

  • FREEBIES : With vaccines seen as one sure way to end the pandemic if 60-70% of the population is vaccinated, the question of making the vaccines available for free gains importance.
  • BLACK MARKET : This does not rule out the possibility of selling them when vaccines become available in plenty even while they are available for free.

COVID-19 Immunisation Programme | UPSC

COVID-19 Immunisation Programme | UPSC


  • VACCINE OWNERS : There is a possibility of the government allowing companies to purchase vaccines to maintain business continuity.
  • VACCINE BIDDERS : Other groups that might be willing to pay for vaccines might also become eligible to buy vaccines.

Any vaccines being diverted at a time when supply is limited deprives priority groups.

  • A PREMIUM PRODUCT : Certain types of vaccines that are unsuitable for public programmes in India because of expense or cold chain requirements, might be opened up for purchase by companies as a premium product.

      IASbhai WINDUP: 

  • Vaccines should be prioritised for groups as identified by the state.
  • Which might mean that all vaccines are only available in the public sector, at least when supplies are limited.

“All this is ethically contentious, and needs discussion.There are no easy decisions or choices.”

     SOURCES:  THE HINDU | COVID-19 Immunisation Programme | UPSC



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