New Delhi, Dec 19 : As India inches closer to the massive national Covid-19 immunisation drive, the necessity to ensure that vaccines reach the people in safe and uncompromised state has become crucial.
The huge gap in demand and supply of Covid vaccines has made experts wary of pilferage and infiltration by counterfeits once they hit the market shelves.
Lalit Kant, former head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said that the vaccine is a commodity which is currently sought after by more than 7 billion people around the world, a situation which possibly triggers many kinds of mischiefs.
"The difference between demand and supply right now is unimaginable.
And whenever this happens, a lot of mischiefs follow. There is a strong possibility for black-marketing, pilferage and infiltration by spurious vaccines in the market," he guesstimated.
"We have seen such a situation arising due to the demand-supply gap.
Many fake medicines are already being sold in the market," Kant added.
Earlier this month, the Interpol had warned law enforcement agencies across the globe that organised criminal networks could try to advertise and sell fake Covid-19 vaccines physically and on the internet.
Swaminathan, COO, GS1 India, which provides universally unique barcode numbers, concurred with Kant and said that there are high chances of spurious products entering the supply chain.
However, he suggested that real-time monitoring to track and trace vaccines from manufacturing to end user can rule out such possibilities.
"A robust tracking mechanism to monitor the supply chain of the vaccines are important to trace down if an anomaly emerges.
This will be critical for various other reasons - to recall batches in case of any adverse event or manufacturing error, to ensure that the person getting the vaccine gets two shots of the same vaccine from the same manufacturer," he added.
According to Swaminathan, an IT-enabled system will be required at the vaccine manufacturing point.
Also, Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) to capture expiry date, batch number at the secondary packaging level, and unique carton code (serial shipping container code) at the tertiary packaging level will be required.
"It is crucial to track forward and backward movement of the distribution chain in terms of deducting counterfeit vaccines as well as recalling the batches where an issue is detected," he added.
GS 1 India is a not-for-profit standards organisation set up by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Gajendra Singh, public health expert, who is providing consultation to the Centre on distribution and delivery of vaccines, said the government has ensured name-based tracking and chances of duplicity among doses is very unlikely till the vials are not available in market.
"Each vial would be delivered to the person it is alloted to. Name-based tracking is ensured by the government," he informed.
Singh also informed that the government would use its own supply chain for the distribution of covid vaccines.
"The infiltration generallyAhappens whenAmultiple delivery systems are used. Here, the government would use its own supply chain for the vaccine rollout," he added.
When asked if the process would continue when the vaccines reach the store shelves, Singh said that it is going to take a long time.
The Centre has modified an electronic network and turned it into an app which would monitor the dosage of vaccines, vaccinators and geographical location of the vaccine recipient.
The app, Co-WIN, would even monitor the temperature of the deep refrigerators where vaccines would be kept in cold chain points.
However, Kant stressed that apart from tracking through digital interface, ample amount of physical security should cover the mobile refrigerators carrying the vaccine doses as pilferage happens mostly during transportation.