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Steady supply chain that enables rapid vaccination coverage is paramount: Ranjan Pai of Manipal Hospitals

In November 2020, Manipal Hospitals which is backed by Temasek and TPG, had acquired the Indian hospital assets of US based Columbia Asia Hospitals for around Rs 2,100 crores.

May 10, 2021 / 09:32 AM IST

While the COVID-19 pandemic is a once in a century kind of event, it still brought forth the urgent need for major investments and revamp of our entire healthcare system across the three tiers.

That’s the word coming in from Ranjan Pai, one of India Inc’s youngest billionaires who controls the Manipal Group which has a presence in healthcare, education and stem cell research.

Manipal Hospitals, which is backed by Temasek & TPG is India’s second largest multi-speciality hospital chain after Apollo Hospitals with 26 hospitals across 14 cities with over 7,000 beds. And they are now on the prowl for assets in East India.

Moneycontrol’s Ashwin Mohan caught up with Pai for a quick, exclusive chat on Manipal’s Covid-19 strategy, key challenges prior to the third wave and the road ahead…

Edited Excerpts:

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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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Q: How are you managing a hospital chain during such challenging times and keeping it COVID-19 ready in terms of staff and resources?

A: The primary challenge as we have been navigating the pandemic over the last 15 months has been to ensure the safety of our teams. Our ability to deliver care to the large number of patients who rely on us depends significantly on the front end teams of doctors, nurses, technicians and customer care groups. We have been diligent in putting in place the required protocols for this and worked extensively on adherence to those. Keeping an uninterrupted supply chain was another key challenge and we were able to anticipate well and plan all requirements which enabled un-interrupted service across our network.

Q: What role do you think the private sector can play in vaccination during the second phase of Covid-19 which has hit the country hard amidst concerns on availability and the supply chain?

A: A major responsibility of dealing with the second wave is being shouldered by the private sector in treating thousands of covid patients and that naturally extends to the vaccination drive too. Considering that a majority of hospitals in the country are private and since vaccination needs to be delivered by trained medical teams, their role would be of key importance. Ensuring a steady supply chain that enables rapid vaccination coverage of course is paramount.

Q: Does Manipal Hospitals have any expansion plans to handle the huge influx of patients in Bangalore or other cities via new hospitals or interim facilities under the Manipal brand? Or will the focus be on the existing portfolio?

A: Manipal Hospitals have been in the front and centre of handling the influx of covid patients, and that too with excellent outcomes, at all our geographies. We have re-purposed our capacities to accommodate covid patients as much as possible. In the short run this would be our approach along with running covid care centres as a capacity multiplier, enabling treatment of asymptomatic or mild infections.

Q: Do you have plans for Manipal clinics or Manipal medical stores if not existing already?

A: No, currently we have no plans for these as the focus of Manipal Hospitals is in delivery of tertiary and quaternary healthcare.

Q: How long do you think the second wave will last especially as India's Principal Scientific Advisor has raised the red flag regarding an imminent third wave ?

A: It is very difficult to predict. However, several experts seem to suggest that the current situation would ease by late May or early June. However, going by the experience of other countries, we need to be prepared for a third wave and, in the interim, aggressively vaccinate all eligible persons.

Q: What are the key lessons that the Indian government and the healthcare system can learn from the second wave so that we are better prepared to handle the third wave?

A: Pandemics are extremely unpredictable. While this has been a once in a century kind of an event, it still brought forth the urgent need for major investments and revamp of our entire healthcare system across the three tiers. We now need to use the four or five months period that might be available between the second and third waves to prepare additional hospital beds, stock up supplies and train many more people who could care for the patients.
Ashwin Mohan
first published: May 10, 2021 09:32 am

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