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E-healthcare firms prepare for expanded vaccination 

Live Mint , Jan 13, 2021

Digital healthcare platforms are expanding cold chain networks, training staff in vaccination, and even hoping to partner with large companies, despite the lack of clarity on the role of private sector in the mass immunization programme beginning 16 January.

India aims to vaccinate 300 million citizens over the next few months, with healthcare workers the first in line. In the second stage, those above 50 years of age, and those below 50 but having co-morbidities or with a high risk of infection will be vaccinated. Identification and monitoring of those who need to be vaccinated will be done over Co-WIN, an online platform for real-time tracking of covid vaccine delivery and distribution.

Bengaluru-based 1mg is investing ₹10-15 crore to expand its cold chain, training its 500-member team of lab technicians in vaccination, and strengthening systems so that it can integrate with Co-WIN. “We are in an early but active stage and are going after this opportunity. I am personally very confident that the government will call upon the private sector. We are setting up cold chain infrastructure and vaccinator networks. Having said that, we are waiting and watching for the government to give some clarity on how the private sector participates, because it (the Centre) will not do 100% of the vaccinations. We will be ready for that. We are also looking at scaling up to deliver 5-10 lakh vaccinations on a daily basis," said Prashant Tandon, co-founder and CEO, 1mg.

1mg is expanding its cold-chain facilities from 10 locations currently to 25 locations. It is also engaging with several state governments to understand the supply-demand imbalance so that 1mg can be focused in its efforts and support the government wherever needed.

Portea Medical said it is preparing its distribution and logistics units, and training its staff.

“...Also, when permitted, we will be ready to provide services to corporates for their employees’ and families’ vaccination. We have capability across the country and have administered large flu vaccination camps in the past," said Meena Ganesh, MD and CEO, Portea Medical.

1mg is currently training its 500 laboratorists in 40 cities for vaccinations.

“We need to make sure all of them are fully equipped with detailed knowledge on the covid-specific vaccines, how to administer (most are intra-muscular, some intra-dermal, etc.,), and what precautions are needed, what needles to use, how to manage safety and biomedical waste management protocols," Tandon said.

Meanwhile, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan told Mint that “the government has held talks with private hospital chains for aiding in the vaccination drive, but so far, no concrete agreement has been chalked out."

Digital Health Platforms (DHP), an industry association of e-pharmacy firms including Medlife, Reliance-Netmeds and Pharmeasy, is awaiting directions from the government.

While healthcare firms endorsed the approach in vaccine prioritization and data management, they were unanimous that the government should leverage the private sector, so that vaccine administration does not become a bottleneck.

According to a FICCI-EY white paper on vaccine strategy released in December, the country may need 130,000-140,000 vaccination centres, about 100,000 healthcare professionals (as inoculators) and 200,000 support staff for mass inoculation of prioritized individuals to support the vaccination programme.

“Given that we are on the verge of launching the largest ever and a complex vaccination programme, effective partnerships and seamless collaborations will be pivotal for its success. We hope the government has taken note of the intent and commitment from private sector for accelerating the process of targeted vaccination," said Dr Alok Roy, chair of FICCI Health Services Committee and chairman, Medica Group of Hospitals.

While the initial phase will be largely managed by the Centre, a hybrid model involving resource-sharing between public and private firms may emerge to bridge capacity gaps as the vaccine rollout expands, said industry executives.