The Serum Institute of India on Tuesday morning dispatched the first consignment of its coronavirus vaccine, Covishield, to 13 cities, reported PTI. India will start the first phase of the vaccination drive on January 16.

More than 56 lakh doses were shipped by air to Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar, Patna, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Chandigarh. The consignment for Mumbai will leave by road. Kool-ex Cold Chain Limited will provide trucks to ferry the vaccine stocks from Serum Institute.

Three temperature-regulated trucks left the Serum Institute little before 5 am for Pune airport. The trucks carried 478 boxes of the vaccines. At the airport, the vaccine boxes were loaded into private domestic air carriers.

“Ready get set go,” a tweet from the Pune airport handle said. “Stand by India! The vaccine to kill the disease is being loaded into the aircraft for distribution all over the country now.”

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri called the shipping of vaccines a “momentous mission”. He added: “Today, Air India, SpiceJet and IndiGo Airlines will operate nine flights from Pune with 56.5 lakh doses to Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar, Patna, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Chandigarh.”

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The vaccination drive

The Centre is planning to inoculate 30 crore people in the first phase of the massive vaccination drive. This would require 60 crore vaccine doses. India’s drug regulator had on January 3 approved emergency use authorisation for two vaccines – Covishield and Covaxin. The Serum Institute is the local maker of Covishield, the vaccine developed by the Oxford University and pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca. Covaxin is India’s indigenous vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the India Council of Medical Research.

The government has ordered 1.01 crore doses of Covishield at Rs 200 per dose. It plans to buy a total of 5.60 crore doses by April. The Hindustan Lifecare Limited will buy the vaccines on behalf of the government from both Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech.

On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that the Centre will bear the cost of vaccinating about 3 crore healthcare and frontline workers against the coronavirus in the first phase of India’s massive inoculation drive. He added that people above the age of 50 and those with comorbidities will get the vaccine next. Experts have said that vaccinating a billion people, including hundreds of millions of adults for the first time, against Covid-19 will be a daunting task in the first tranche.

India on Tuesday registered 12,584 new coronavirus cases, taking the overall count to 1,04,79,179. This was the lowest daily rise in infections in seven months. The toll rose by 167 to 1,51,327. The active cases remained below 3 lakh at 2,16,558 for the 22nd consecutive day, while the number of recoveries reached 1,01,11,294.