Health secretary briefs parliamentary panel on COVID vaccine's development and distribution

KOLKATA: The first consignment of 10 lakh doses of COVID-19 vaccines — 6.89 lakh for Bengal and the rest for nearby states — arrived here on Tuesday afternoon in a special cargo flight from Pune’s Serum Institute, a senior official of the state health department said.

The vaccines, kept in around 58 boxes, were ferried from the city airport, where it landed around 1.40 pm, in two insulated vans — one to state-owned Central Family Welfare Stores at Bagbazar and another to the Government Medical Store Depot in Hastings.

Police pilot cars escorted the two vans which sped through a green corridor, set up for the purpose, he stated.

Five walk-in-coolers (WICs) and four walk-in-freezers (WIFs) have been installed at the Bagbazar store for stockpiling 6.89 lakh vials, which would be dispatched to 941 centres across Bengal.

The rest of over three lakh vaccines will be sent off from the central depot to states in the northeastern part of the country, and also to Andaman and Nicobar Islands, he said.

“Kolkata has been chosen as the hub to distribute vaccines to other states, especially those in the northeast. The vaccines, to be sent to other states, have been stored in a facility in Hastings,” the official explained.

According to the official, the exercise to dispatch vials to the city’s neighbouring districts has already begun.

The northern districts of Bengal would start receiving the vials from Wednesday, and arrangements have also been made to transport the vaccine to the Sunderbans and Sagar Islands through waterways, he said.

“All guidelines will have to be strictly followed while transporting the vaccines to the districts, that, too, before January 16, so that the scheduled vaccination process can start on time,” the official said.

Talking about precautionary measures taken for safe storage of the vials, he said that around each cold chain, adequate police personnel have been deployed to ensure that there was no untoward incident.

The central government had last week said that the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination drive would begin on January 16.

Frontline workers will be among the first ones to receive the dose.