India's vaccine woes ending? Hyderabad airport receives 3 million Sputnik V doses

This was the single largest import consignment of Covid-19 vaccines to reach India and could contribute to solving the country's vaccine crisis

India's vaccine woes ending? Hyderabad airport receives 3 million Sputnik V doses
A Boeing 747 freighter carries the mega shipment of Sputnik V vaccines to Hyderabad. Image courtesy: GMR

The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) in Hyderabad on Tuesday (June 1) handled the single largest import of Covid-19 vaccines by India till now, with 56.6 tonnes, or around 3 million doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines reaching the country.

India has so far had depended on the home-produced Covaxin and Covishield vaccines, but faced a crippling shortage, especially after the vaccination was opened for the 18-44 year age group. 

According to a CNBC report on May 5, only about 3% of India's population (leaving out around a quarter of the total population of 1.3 billion who are under 15 years and not eligible for Covid vaccinations yet) have received the complete two doses of the vaccine.

With this sizeable supply of the Russian vaccines, one hopes India's vaccine problems would soon be settled once these vaccines start to be used.

Dr Reddy’s Laboratories has entered into an agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to sell the first 125 million people doses (250 million vials) of Sputnik V in India, according to a PTI report. The pharma major has received approval from the Indian drug regulator for restricted emergency use of the Russian vaccine.  

The massive Covid vaccine consignment from Russia arrived on a specially chartered Boeing 747 freighter (RU-9450) which touched down at the Hyderabad airport at 3.43 am. This shipment completed all processes and was dispatched in less than 90 minutes. 

The Sputnik V vaccine requires specialised handling and storage, requiring to be kept at a temperature of -20°C. GMR Hyderabad Air Cargo (GHAC) has been working with experts from the customer’s supply chain team, officials from the customs department and other stakeholders over an extended period of time to ensure that the necessary infrastructure and handling processes are fully in place at the air cargo terminal for smooth handling of vaccine shipments.

More than 56 tonnes of Sputnik V vaccine reaches India. Image courtesy: GMR

Handling this mega vaccine shipment further cemented GHAC's position as the largest vaccine import hub for India. 

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Major pharma companies based in and around Hyderabad are expected to produce or import over 3.5 billion doses of different varieties of Covid vaccines over the next couple of years and GHAC has been gearing up to handle the surge in vaccine shipments. 

Key elements of the temperature-controlled infrastructure at GHAC are all being expanded in terms of both capacity as well as capability. Among other measures, GHAC has expanded the capacity of the ‘pharma zone’, which is India’s first dedicated pharma cargo export terminal, and has introduced a unique temperature-controlled ‘cool dolly’ to safely transport shipments from the airport terminal to the aircraft. Together, these initiatives enable GHAC to offer an unbroken cold chain for vaccines and pharmaceuticals from truck offloading point to aircraft loading. 

GHAC has also convened a special task force comprising customs authorities, airlines, freight forwarders and other stakeholders to ensure priority handling and speedy clearances for vaccines and other Covid relief materials such as medicines, oxygen concentrators and so on. 

GHAC handles the biggest import consignment of Covid-19 vaccines by India till now. Image courtesy: GMR

GHAC is a World Health Organisation-Good Storage and Distribution Practices (WHO-GSDP)-certified major gateway location in India. It handles temperature-sensitive cargo and ensures seamless distribution across the world. The major export and import commodities handled here consist of perishables (agro and marine products), pharmaceuticals, engineering and aerospace, garments and electronics among others.

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According to the government's provisional report on June 1, the cumulative number of Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the country exceeded 21.83 crore. As many as 9,50,401 beneficiaries in the 18-44 year age group received their first dose and 15,467 beneficiaries their second dose today. 

The Covid-19 situation in India is steadily improving after an alarming surge and associated problems like shortage of hospital beds, testing kits and oxygen. However, things look to have changed for the better. 

At 1.27 lakh, India reported its lowest daily new cases in 54 days on June 1. This was far better than the more than four lakh daily new cases during the early part of last month. India's active caseload further declined to 18,95,520. It was below 20 lakh after 43 days and the recovery rate increased to 92.09%. Deaths, however, rose by 2,795.