India has also discussed holding clinical trials of the vaccine in countries like Bangladesh and held training modules for neighbouring countries

From 'Pharmacy of the World' to 'Covid-19 Vaccine Facilitator of the World', India is set to play a vital new role in the coming months.

While it is readying to ensure mass production of the COVID-19 vaccine using its massive vaccine manufacturing network, India has also extended a helping hand to its neighbours in their fight against the pandemic.

Given the scale of the exercise that will need to be undertaken once a vaccine becomes available, the Indian government has offered to help enhance cold chain and storage capacity as well as in vaccine development, as reiterated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at various events and global platforms in recent weeks.

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Official Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, at the weekly briefing on Thursday, said, India will “help all countries in enhancing their cold chain and storage capacities for the deliveries of vaccines. And in this regard, cooperation is already underway. Capacity building cooperation and clinical trials have been going on.”

India has organised two training modules for its neighbouring countries in which about 90 health experts and scientists have participated, he said. “We propose this to expand these programmes to other countries,” Srivastava said.

India sent a delegation to Bangladesh to hold discussions between the concerned departments on clinical trials between October 17 to October 19, he informed. “And in these discussions the current stage of vaccine development in India and the modalities of clinical trials in Bangladesh were discussed,” he said.

India has also had a discussion between the concerned officials of the two sides in a virtual interaction with Myanmar “since there was interest in cooperation on covid-19 vaccines,” he said. The two sides will discuss and decide on the modalities of cooperation, he added.

“In due course depending on the trials in India we propose to expand our cooperation to other countries. And this cooperation will include clinical trials and capacity building for vaccine development, production as well as delivery,” Srivastava said.

Leveraging India's vaccine production capacity

India happens to be the largest producer of vaccines in the world.

The MEA spokesperson recalled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last month where he promised that India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

On September 26, addressing the UNGA, he said, “India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting the crisis.” “India will also help all the countries in enhancing their cold chain and storage capacities for the delivery of the vaccines,” he added.

India has been working round the clock to increase the capacity building and enhance the storage capacities within the country as the country expects a vaccine in late December or early 2021.

PM Modi recently chaired a review meeting to review India’s response to COVID-19 pandemic. In the detailed meeting held on October 15, he reviewed the research and vaccine deployment ecosystem against the COVID-19 pandemic including testing technologies, contact tracing, drugs and therapeutics.

PM Modi stock of Health Ministry’s comprehensive distribution and delivery mechanism for vaccines including mechanisms for adequate procurement, and technologies for bulk-stockpiling, filling vials for distribution and ensuring effective delivery.

India’s vaccine candidate Covaxin being developed by Bharat Biotech has been cleared for the Phase-III clinical trials by the Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI).

The candidate is on the verge of completing its phase-II trials. If successful, it will be India’s indigenously made vaccine for COVID-19 along with another candidate by Zydus Cadila, ZyCov-D.

Meanwhile, the Oxford Vaccine, Covidshield, being tested jointly by British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and Pune based Serum Institute of India (SII) has already entered Phase III trials. SII has said it will produce up to 100 million doses of the vaccine for India and low and middle income countries by early 2021.

In a recent interview with The Economic Times, PM Modi assured that the vaccine will be given to everybody.

“First and foremost, I would like to assure the nation that, as and when a vaccine becomes available, everyone will be vaccinated. None will be left behind. Of course, initially we may focus on protecting the most vulnerable and the frontline workers,” he said.

He said that a National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 Vaccine has been constituted to chart the way forward.

“Dedicated teams at state, district and local levels will see to it that the vaccine distribution and administration is done in a systematic and accountable manner. A digital platform to enroll, track and reach the beneficiaries is also being prepared,” PM Modi said.

PM Modi also informed about the logistical support that will be provided to store and distribute the vaccines to people. He said that over 28,000 cold chain points will store and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to ensure that they reach the last point.