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Here's how home-grown pharma startups plan to aid the government’s COVID inoculation drive

Anticipating that the government will ask the private sector to step in and help with the nationwide vaccination drive, these startups are busy ramping up their infrastructure and training resources to be ready for the inoculation effort

January 13, 2021 / 02:54 PM IST

At a time when the government is all set to begin a mammoth selective inoculation drive, health-tech startups are busy ramping up their infrastructure and training resources with the aim of being ready to assist the government as and when it opens vaccination up for the masses.

While the programme is solely being run by government agencies currently, the private sector is optimistic it will be asked to chip in for the countrywide expansion.

“We have started setting and strengthening the core chain and network of phlebologists (venous disease specialists). Maybe in 3-4 months when they open it for the private sector, we want to be prepared from a supply chain perspective," Prashant Tandon, founder and Chief Executive of e-pharmacy 1MG, said.

The company, which is backed by investors such as Corisol Holding and IFC, among others, plans to spend around $3-5 million in the next few months setting up cold chains and training staff. Currently it has cold chains in 10 locations. It plans to set up 25 more in the next 8-12 weeks.

“We would want to be in a position to do a million vaccinations a day. So we want to set up infrastructure for that. $1.5-2 million will go in cold chains and the balance will go in training and all the processes,” said Tandon.


COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Massive effort

India is all set to begin its vaccination drive from January 16. During the first phase of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in India, approximately 1 crore healthcare workers and 2 crore frontline workers will be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus disease.

During the second phase, around 27 crore people will get their vaccine shots, which will include persons aged 50 years and above and those aged below 50 years but with associated comorbid conditions.

Pharmeasy, another startup, is also getting ready for the vaccination drive. “With more than 3 million sq ft of storage space, we have dedicated slots for temperature controlled products and can easily store, distribute, and inoculate more than 10 million patients every month,” said Dharmil Sheth, co-founder.

“We are seeking clarity from the government with respect to the framework and operating guidelines for private players whenever they open the field for them. It will provide a huge boost to the existing vaccine infrastructure in the country,” he added.

Another home-grown firm, Medibuddy-DocsApp, which counts Bessemer Venture Partners, Fusian Capital and Mitsui Sumitomo among its investors, has started briefing partners and identifying geographies where it can offer solutions.

“Inoculation requires either a doctor or a paramedic. We have a significant base of 90,000 doctors across the country. We are identifying how many of them can be used for the vaccination process besides ramping up facilities in the last-mile infrastructure,” said Satish Kannan, Co-founder & CEO, MediBuddy-DocsApp.

The vaccines in India currently require temperatures ranging between 2-8 degrees celsius. Medibuddy, along with its hospital and doctor partners, will be setting up required structures to ensure a proper mechanism is in place. “While 70 percent of the cost will be borne by the partners, we will be spending 30 percent from our side,” said Kannan.

The vaccines

The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) recently approved the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured by Serum Institute in India as Covishield, and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin for restricted emergency use, even though question marks have been raised by some experts about the approval process of the two vaccines.

On January 11, the process of transporting Serum Institute’s Covishield vaccine began after the manufacturer received the central government’s initial purchase order of 11 million doses at Rs 200 per dose.

Currently the doses are being administered through public and private centres by doctors, dentists, nurses and trained paramedics. Two doses are to be given 21 days or 28 days apart, depending upon the vaccine used.
Priyanka Sahay
first published: Jan 13, 2021 02:54 pm

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