With the rollout of the vaccine for Covid-19 imminent by next year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has initiated the process of identifying spaces for cold storage facilities for storing the vaccine as well buildings that will be used as vaccination centres.
The Union Health ministry has informed all state governments to prepare their cold storage facilities. The BMC is converting a 5,000 square feet floor in a five-storey civic building opposite the Kanjurmarg police station into a cold storage facility. The facility will be ready by December 15. “This will act as a central storage facility that can store five lakh vaccine doses. This building is being used for Covid-19 screening and management right now. We are converting one of the floors into cold storage, if need arises other floors will be converted too,” said Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani.
BMC’s mechanical and engineering department has begun work to assess how big deep freezers and walk-in refrigerators will be required in the facility. The civic body is in the process of issuing a tender for cold storage in the Kanjurmarg building in coming days. Kakani added that the central government or the state government will be providing transportation boxes to move vaccine from one centre to another.
Currently, Mumbai has over 300 ice lined refrigerators in every dispensary and health post that are utilised for routine immunisation like polio, measles and rubella. Existing vaccines cannot be stored along with Covid-19 vaccine due to differences in specific temperature required to store them. Executive health officer Dr Mangala Gomare said they are still awaiting government’s directions on which vaccine against coronavirus will be finalised. “We need to know the capacity required, whether vaccine will be in liquid or powder form and temperature requirements. Unless we know all this, we cannot set-up the storage facility to exact specifications,” she said.
Currently, each dispensary and health post has ice lined refrigerators to store routine vaccines. “We may have to procure more ice lined refrigerators and deep freezers for Covid-19 vaccines if the scale of vaccination drive becomes huge,” Gomare added.
In Mumbai, the main storage centre until now for polio vaccines is the Parel office, where the executive health office is headquartered. The Kanjurmarg facility will serve as an exclusive point for Covid-19 vaccines.
Once a vaccine is approved, KEM, Sion, Nair, and Dr RN Cooper hospital will serve as vaccination points for doctors, nurses, hospital staff and private doctors in first phase. Civic officials said they have a list of 1.25 lakh health workers from public and private sector along with their e-mail addresses and phone numbers to schedule their vaccination appointments. In Nair hospital, Dean Dr RN Bharmal said the hospital is already storing Astra-Zeneca vaccine currently in use for the clinical trial. “We can store more than 50,000 doses in hospital. We can utilise blood bank and microbiology department’s cold storage if needed,” he said. In RN Cooper hospital, Dean Dr Pinakin Gujjar said he is waiting for directions from BMC to begin preparations. “We have limited storage for vaccines. Once we are told specifications, we will work accordingly,” he said.
In second phase, BMC plans to rope in two dispensaries or health posts from each ward as vaccination point. The 48 vaccination points across 24 wards will be equally divided in east and west region of the wards.
Across Maharashtra, the health ministry will prepare a list of healthcare workers for vaccination by December 6. So far, 98 per cent of health workers in public sector and 75 per cent in private sector have been registered for vaccination. A state official said they have also begun the process of identifying vaccinators— mainly interns, medical students, auxiliary nurse midwives— in different districts to vaccinate people. Committees at district level have been formed to prepare local vaccination plan in coordination with state vaccination committee.
“By January, the Government of India will provide deep freezers, ice lined refrigerators and walk-in refrigerators to us. In December, the infrastructure for this facility will be set up. By next week, the central government will send syringes for vaccines. We have already readied storage space for them,” said Health Secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas.
With 30 vaccine candidates currently under various stages of development in India and at least five undergoing clinical trials, health officials are looking at vaccine availability in early next year. Astra Zeneca-Oxford, Moderna and Pfizer remain the front runners amongst vaccines globally, while in India Astra Zeneca and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin are in second and third phase of trials, respectively. Civic officials said they have a ready set-up to support Astra Zeneca Oxford vaccine that requires 2-8 degrees Celsius temperature to store.