India’s vaccine ferrying drive begins, 9 flights to 13 cities take off on Day 1

India’s vaccine ferrying drive begins, 9 flights to 13 cities take off on Day 1

India on Tuesday began the mammoth task of ferrying the first lot of Covid-19 vaccine Covishield doses, developed in Pune’s Serum Institute of India, with 9 flights carrying as many as 5.6 million doses to 13 cities ahead of the vaccination drive scheduled from January 16.

The flights from Pune were scheduled to ferry the vaccines to Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar, Patna, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Chandigarh on day one of the transportation drive, Union aviation minister Hardeep Puri announced on Tuesday.

Private carriers including SpiceJet, GoAir, Indigo and national carrier Air India were deployed for the transportation of the vaccines.

The first flight operated by Spicejet departed from Pune airport with 1088 kg of the vaccine consignment packed in 34 boxes and reached Delhi airport at 9:54 am. The second flight operated by GoAir ferried 70,800 vials of Covid-19 vaccines to Chennai.

“Some flights post 8 pm will operate from Mumbai airport too due to construction at Pune airport, cargo trucks will ferry the vaccine consignment from Pune to Mumbai. The schedule of flights ferrying consignment of vaccines from Hyderabad will be prepared once the government finalises and places an order with Bharat Biotech,” a senior official said.

The government had on Monday placed orders in advanced commitments for over six crore doses of vaccines from SII and Bharat Biotech for inoculating three crore healthcare and frontline workers in the first phase.

“Civil aviation sector launches yet another momentous mission. Vaccine movement starts. First two flights operated by SpiceJet and GoAir from Pune to Delhi and Chennai have taken off,” Union civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri tweeted on Tuesday morning.

“Good news just flew in! The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines reached Delhi Airport today. Our cargo terminal efficiently handled it through temperature-controlled technology, ranging from -20 Deg C to +25 Deg C,” Delhi airport tweeted.

The Centre will bear the entire cost of vaccinating 30 million healthcare and frontline workers — employees across government departments, the police and civic bodies — at the start of the world’s biggest immunization drive against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday.

The government on Friday put final touches to its Covid-19 vaccine roll-out plan as it held the biggest-yet drill to perfect immunization logistics and last-mile delivery, issued guidelines for safe air delivery of vaccines across the country. The guidelines directed airlines and airport authorities to ensure the vaccines are packaged in dry ice and refrigerated material in a bid to maintain low temperatures.

The guidelines issued by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) state all scheduled operators who have been currently authorized to carry dangerous goods may carry Covid-19 vaccines packed in dry ice, meeting the regulatory requirements.

“Though there may be different refrigerant options, use of dry ice (Carbon Dioxide Solid) is the most commonly used, affordable and readily available refrigerant material available in the country for transportation of perishables by air. Dry ice continually sublimates (Dry ice that is solid, transforms into Carbon Dioxide gas (CO2) at temperatures higher than -78°C (-108.4O F) under normal atmospheric pressure. At reduced pressures, the sublimation rate of dry ice will increase while all other factors being the same,” it noted.

The Centre had begun preparations for the transportation of the vaccines in December, the aviation ministry had instructed airport operators, including state-run Airports Authority of India (AAI), ground handling service providers and airlines to put in place standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the transportation of Covid-19 vaccines. The aviation ministry held multiple rounds of meetings with airline executives on transport logistics for the vaccine, HT had reported on December 7.

Airlines too had begun preparations for transportation; and started partnering with pharmaceutical transportation companies offering cold storage. SpiceJet had announced the signing of multiple memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with an aggressive push for cold storage transportation ahead of the drive.

“I am happy to share that SpiceJet has carried India’s first consignment of Covid-19 vaccine today. The first consignment of Covishield consisting of 34 boxes and weighing 1088 kg was carried from Pune to Delhi on SpiceJet flight 8937,” Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing Director, SpiceJet said.

“We will be carrying multiple vaccine consignments to different Indian cities including Guwahati, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Bengaluru, Patna and Vijayawada through the day today. SpiceJet is fully committed and prepared to transport the Covid vaccine both within and outside India. Today marks the beginning of a long and decisive phase in India’s fight against the pandemic and SpiceJet is proud to assist in the biggest vaccination drive in the history of mankind,” he added.

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