Prepare cold storage for COVID-19 vaccine, PM tells states; SC seeks response on uniform test rates plea

Modi made the remarks during a virtual meeting with states and UTs to discuss modalities of vaccine distribution strategy and review COVID-19 response, especially in eight states reporting a surge

FP Staff November 24, 2020 22:53:10 IST
Prepare cold storage for COVID-19 vaccine, PM tells states; SC seeks response on uniform test rates plea

Representational image. AP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday asked states to put in place cold storage facilities for future COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans, while assuring that the safety of citizens will be as much a priority for the government as the speed of the vaccination programme.

The prime minister made the remarks during a virtual meeting with states and Union Territories to discuss modalities of vaccine distribution strategy and review the COVID-19 response, especially in eight states reporting surge in numbers — Haryana, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and West Bengal

Modi also asked the states to guard against laxity and take efforts to bring down the positivity rate below five percent and fatality rate below one percent.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the situation in her state was being aptly addressed and Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani claimed the situation was under control in his state.

Meanwhile, news agency PTI reported that the Centre has asked states to take steps needed for strengthening surveillance of adverse events following immunisation before a COVID-19 vaccine is introduced.

In another development, the Supreme Court sought the Centre's response on a PIL seeking direction for fixing the maximum rate for the RT-PCR test for COVID-19 uniformly all over India.

SC seeks Centre's response on plea for uniform test rates

A Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian issued notice to the Health Ministry and listed the PIL filed by lawyer Ajay Agrawal, seeking uniform capping of RT-PCR test rates, for hearing after two weeks.

The petition has sought a direction to the governments to fix the maximum rate for the RT-PCR test to Rs 400 uniformly across the country, instead of Rs 900 to Rs 2800 as fixed by different state governments, Union Territories and NCT of Delhi, alleging hat the owners of the private laboratories and hospitals are making use of the crisis as opportunities for minting crores and crores of rupees.

The petition claimed that RT-PCR kits are presently available for less than rupees 200 and there are no other costs involved. "The margin of profit is so high as it is as high as 1400 per cent in Andhra Pradesh and 1200 per cent in Delhi," said the petition.

PM holds meeting with states, UTs

In the virtual meeting on Tuesday, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said that several factors were instrumental in making the third wave of coronavirus in Delhi "more dangerous", adding that increased pollution levels in the city recently played a big role. "The pollution from stubble burning in the neighbouring states has been one of the major reasons," he said.

Kejriwal demanded the intervention of the prime minister to resolve the issue of stubble burning with the help of bio-decomposer technology.

He also told the prime minister that Delhi saw the peak of 8,600 coronavirus infections on November 10 during the third wave and since then, the number of cases as well as the positivity rate are steadily decreasing and hoped that the downward trend would continue.

Kejriwal also sought the reservation of the additional 1,000 ICU beds in the Central government-run hospitals in the city for Delhiites. "Home minister Amit Shah is helping in increasing the ICU beds, but if the Central government decides to reserve 1,000 beds for the people of Delhi in central government hospitals like Safdarjung and AIIMS, it will be a great support to us," Kejirwal said.

Separately, an official told the news agency that Kejriwal has ordered for an immediate procurement of 1,200 BiPAP machines for the operationalisation of new ICU beds being added in the National Capital this week

Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel  also asserted that spread of COVID-19 has been brought under control in Chhattisgarh, where 23,000 tests are being conducted per day. "After October, the state has registered around 50 percent decline in new cases," Baghel said.

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, on the other hand, said "some parties" put the lives of people at risk by agitating on roads ahead of the second wave of COVID-19 infections and said they should be asked to not play politics at this crucial juncture. He said the prime minister or Union home minister Amit Shah should convene a meeting of all parties to tell them about the seriousness of the situation.

Uddhav did not name any party, but his remarks came in the backdrop of the Maharashtra BJP staging street protests for reopening of temples in the state and on the issue of inflated electricity bills in the recent past.

Banerjee assured  Modi that her government is fully prepared to work with the Centre and all other stakeholders for the speedy implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination programme in the state.

The prime minister said the government was closely monitoring the vaccine development process and maintaining contacts with all stakeholders and urged states to send their detailed plans on vaccine administration, underlining that a final vaccine distribution strategy will be chalked out in collective coordination with states.

Modi noted that the priority will be to ensure that the vaccine reaches everyone and asked the chief ministers to ensure regular monitoring of the state-level steering committee and state and district level taskforces to ensure better results, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

The requirements of additional cold chain storages have also been discussed with the states and they must start working in that direction, he said.

Modi noted that the priority of vaccination is being decided in consultation with the states.

Although the prime minister avoided giving a timeline about the vaccine, Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa said after the meeting that there are indications that a vaccine may be ready in about four to six weeks.

One cr frontline healthworkers  to receive first vaccine dose

Earlier in the day, PTI, quoting official sources, reported that an estimated one crore frontline health workers will receive the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine whenever it becomes available, with around 92 percent of government hospitals and 55 percent of private hospitals across all states and UTs providing data identifying the workers.

The Centre, with the help of state and UT governments, has started the process of identifying around 30 crore priority beneficiaries who would be given vaccine dose in the initial phase, sources had said.

States have been asked to accelerate the process of identifying frontline healthcare workers including doctors, MBBS students, nurses, and ASHA workers so that the exercise gets completed in another one week.

Five vaccines are under different phases of clinical trial in India with the Serum Institute of India conducting phase-3 trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine while the indigenously developed Bharat Biotech and ICMR vaccine has already started the phase III clinical trial.

Indigenously developed vaccine by Zydus Cadila has completed phase -2 clinical trial in the country. Dr Reddy's Laboratories will soon start combined phase 2 and 3 clinical trials of the Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V in India. Biological E. Ltd has started early phase 1 and 2 human trials of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

Sputnik V's efficacy 95%, claims Russia

Meanwhile,  Russia on Tuesday claimed that the efficacy of its Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine is over 95 percent and the cost of one dose of the shot for international markets will be less than $10 (around Rs 740).

The Gamelya National Centre and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in a joint statement, said the preliminary data from volunteers obtained 42 days after the first dose (corresponds with 21 days after the second dose) indicates the efficacy of the vaccine to be above 95 percent.

The cost of one dose of the Sputnik V vaccine for international markets will be less than $10 and it will be a double dose vaccine, as per the  statement.

The efficacy of the Sputnik V vaccine is 91.4 percent, based on the second interim analysis of data obtained 28 days after administering the first dose (seven days after the second dose), it added.

The positive results were obtained during the second interim data analysis of the largest double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled Phase III clinical trials in Russia's history involving 40,000 volunteers, the statement said.

As of 24 November, more than 22,000 volunteers were vaccinated with the first dose and more than 19,000 volunteers with the first and the second dose of the vaccine at 29 medical centres in Russia as part of the ongoing clinical trials. Phase III clinical trials are also ongoing in Belarus, the UAE, Venezuela and other countries, as well as Phase II-III in India, the statement said.

As of 24 November, no unexpected adverse events were identified as part of the research, it added.

AstraZeneca to provide three billion vaccine doses by 2021

Meanwhile, Olivier Nataf,  head of AstraZeneca in France, in an interview with news agency AFP , said that three billion doses of the vaccine it has developed with Oxford University will be produced in 2021 and be made available at a cost of around 2.50 euros ($3) per dose.

Nataf also said that production is underway and it will possible to provide the vaccine as soon as the final results of clinical trials, and especially the evaluations by health authorities, are available.

"Production is ramping up, there are already 50 million doses of active substances available and capacity is being increased almost weekly," he told the news agency.

Strengthen monitoring of adverse effects of COVID-19 vaccination, says Centre

In India, the Union health ministry, in a letter dated 18 November has listed initiatives which it said are essential to further strengthen the existing adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) surveillance system of India so that timely and complete AEFI reporting for COVID-19 inoculation is possible.

Giving the existence of comorbidities among adults, the ministry asked all states and Union Territories to include medical specialists  like neurologists, cardiologists, respiratory medicine specialists in addition to paediatricians in state and district AEFI committee

The ministry further asked each state to choose a medical college to function as the state AFEI technical collaborating centre.  The clinical specialists of the medical college (neurologists, cardiologists, respiratory medicine specialists in addition to paediatricians) and experts from the department of community medicine will assist the state and state AEFI committee in conducting rapid causality assessment, case investigations in districts, laboratory tests in certain cases to find the cause of AEFIs etc, it said.

The new committee members or specialists should be oriented on the immunisation programme, COVID-19 vaccination, AEFI surveillance and conduction of causality assessment for AEFI cases, the letter stated.

The other measures listed by the ministry included the frequency of meetings, availability of AEFI register, and asked districts to. prepare communication plans to manage rumours and myths regarding vaccine safety and crisis.

Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal, be Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Odisha have been requested to ask for funds to hire state AEFI consultants in their pandemic influenza preparedness framework.

"I request that these initiatives are implemented at the earliest so that required changes take place well before the COVID-19 vaccine is introduced in the state and district," the letter written by Dr Manohar Agnani, additional secretary in the ministry, said.

India reports 37,975 new cases, 480 deaths in 24 hours

India's COVID-19 caseload on Tuesday rose to 91,77,840 with 37,975 fresh cases reported in a day, while the toll due climbed to 1,34,218 with 480 new fatalities, health ministry's data updated at 8 am showed.

Further, 77.04 per cent of the fresh COVID-19 cases were reported from 10 states and UT, with Delhi continued to report the highest number of daily cases at 4,454, followed by Maharashtra (4,153), the ministry said.

Ten states and Union territories accounted for 73.54 per cent of the new deaths and Delhi saw the maximum casualties (121), followed by West Bengal (47) and Maharashtra (30), the ministry observed.

The active COVID-19 caseload of the country has fallen to 4,38,667, which is just 4.78 percent of the total cases reported so far, while the number of recoveries has crossed 86 lakh.

Delhi has also reported the highest number of 7,216 single-day recoveries, followed by Kerala (5,425) and Maharashtra (3,729), and the 75.71 percent of the new recoveries were concentrated in 10 states and UTs, it said.

In line with its commitment to conduct more than 10 lakh tests per day, 10,99,545 samples were tested in a span of 24 hours, the ministry said.

"The cumulative national COVID-19 positivity rate stands at 6.87 percent as on date, less than the seven percent-mark, while the daily positivity rate is just 3.45 percent," it said.

The tests per million (TPM) figure has increased to 96,871, it highlighted.


With inputs from agencies


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