India’s business and financial hub Mumbai, once the country’s coronavirus hotspot, is building facilities to store 10 million doses of the vaccine as it aims to open fully from a strict lockdown.
The city’s Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal and his deputy Suresh Kakani, who’s in charge of the vaccination drive, spoke in separate interviews this week before the start of a nationwide rollout on Saturday. Their responses are edited for clarity.
Q. What’s the plan?
Chahal: Mumbai’s population that comes under the Municipal Corporation is about 15 million. We plan to create vaccine storage capacity of a little more than 10 million, which will be adequate as the vaccination will be done in phases. We have formed 500 teams, each having two vaccinators, two support staff and one security guard. They will initially run the vaccination program at eight centers, which can inject 12,000 people a day.
Kakani: Capacity will rise to 50,000 people daily within a week, subject to availability of vaccines and people’s response. New centers will eventually be opened in each ward, so people won’t have to travel very far.
Q. Whom will you vaccinate?
Kakani: The vaccination will be done in phases. Phase 1 focuses on health care providers and the second will be for other frontline workers such as hospital cleaning staff, ambulance drivers, security guards.
Chahal: We have registered 130,000 health workers and around 200,000 frontline workers through the CoWin app and the federal government is allocating vaccine vials based on these numbers. Mumbai has received 139,500 vaccine doses compared with the 130,000 requested for the first phase, which can be completed in 10 days. There is no clarity yet from the federal government regarding when the third phase will start.
Kakani: We expect about 3.5 million people in the third phase, involving people aged 50 or more with co-morbidities. At maximum capacity this could take 100 days but it all depends on how many vials we get and what is the response of people.
Q. What are the concerns/challenges?
Kakani: Some challenges are there. People want to wait and watch for the outcome of the first few vaccinated people. They may want to seek the opinion of these people, and only then register.
Chahal: India has a population of 1.3 billion and only 30 million doses are available, so there is a huge gap in demand and supply. The rollout itself looks like a massive effort but in India we’ve had several such drives, in fact the one to eradicate polio was more complicated as our teams went door-to-door. If push comes to shove and a massive supply of vaccines are provided we are ready to knock on doors with ice boxes, as this vaccine (Mumbai is receiving Covishield, developed by Oxford-Astrazeneca Plc and manufactured by Serum Institute of India) requires to be stored at 2-8 degree Celsius just like polio doses.
Q. How are you procuring the vaccines?
Kakani: Procurement is being done by the Government of India and we will be allocated adequate vials in a staggered manner via the state government. As of now it’s free for healthcare and frontline workers. We still don’t have any official communication on price. Internal thought process for private procurement of vials is going on, but talks are not on with the manufacturing companies or Government of India at this moment.
Chahal: Vaccines will be given only based on identity proof (Aadhar card), which will avoid misuse and black marketing.
Q. How will Saturday play out?
Kakani: The vaccines will be transported from the manufacturer in Pune by refrigerated trucks, accompanied by adequate security. They will be placed in a central storage facility in Mumbai. On the morning of Jan. 16, those will be transferred to respective vaccination centers again by cold chain. Each person arriving to be vaccinated will have to show identity proof and the confirmation text message he or she received when they registered on the CoWin app. After vaccination the person will be observed for 50 minutes. The observation ward will be attached to an intensive care unit in case of any adverse reactions. We will be running these centers in two shifts 7 a.m.-2 p.m. and then on through 9 p.m. Second dose of Covishield is required to be taken after 28 days, following the same procedure.
Q. What’s the virus situation in Mumbai?
Chahal: We are registering 450-750 new infections a day but our positivity rate of 3%-4% is down from 38% at peak. Asymptomatic cases are now 80% of total versus 50% earlier.