Azad writes to PM, suggests measures to ramp up vaccine manufacturing, health infra

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New Delhi, May 15 (PTI) Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Saturday suggested involvement of major vaccine manufacturing companies to speed up production of COVID-19 vaccines and re-hiring of recently retired nursing and paramedical staff to undertake the inoculation drive on a 'mission mode' across the country.

The former union health minister also suggested improving oxygen availability and strengthening the field infrastructure by optimum use of pre-fabricated beds and units to set up additional health facilities and vaccination sites.

Azad, who was recently nominated as the head of a 13-member Congress party task force to coordinate COVID-19 relief, made the four suggestions in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and expressed hope that these 'constructive suggestions' would be considered positively.

Highlighting the shortage of the vaccine, human resource, infrastructure and oxygen, he said his suggestions are meant to further supplement the efforts being made by both central and state governments, different organisations and extraordinary contribution by frontline workers including doctors and security forces.

'I am given to understand that there are 21 major vaccine manufacturing pharmaceutical companies in the country. All of these pharmaceutical companies have state of the art manufacturing facilities compliant to bio-safety norms.

'In fact, seven of them reportedly are WHO pre-qualified manufacturers/suppliers. Two of such reputable vaccine manufacturers: M/s Serum Institute of India (SII) and M/s Bharat Biotech are manufacturing COVISHIELD and COVAXIN, respectively. It is now apparent that despite their utmost efforts, they are hard pressed to meet the national requirements,' Azad said.

He said with current production capacities and the rate of supply, it may take until the third quarter of 2022 to achieve the desired levels of vaccination.

Azad said while it is understood that the COVISHIELD vaccine is being produced by SII under patent licensing arrangement with Astra Zeneca and Dr Reddy's Lab has lately been licensed to manufacture the SPUTNIK vaccine, 'we can surely augment' the production of domestically developed COVAXIN.

'I believe Department of Biotechnology and ICMR have supported the development of the vaccine now being produced by M/s Bharat Biotech. It may be worthwhile to have them share the technology with, if not all, the remaining WHO pre-qualified pharmaceutical companies. This will immediately increase the production of COVAXIN manifold thereby instantly improving vaccination coverage,' he said.

Referring to skilled human resource, he said as the then Union health minister, one of his focus areas during 2009-2014 was to increase the availability of health human resource.

He said the advisory to engage final year medical students, residents appearing for PG examinations, and nursing students graduates is welcome.

'While this measure will add to the nationwide effort to vaccinate the maximum number in the shortest time. we may still be short of the required numbers of nursing and paramedical staff for reaching the large unvaccinated population in all corners of the country,' he said, adding 'due to such shortage, we are unable to increase the numbers of our vaccination sites to desired levels, particularly in rural and remote areas.' The Congress leader said along with nursing graduates, the government may consider re-hiring recently retired nursing and paramedical staff for six months to one year on payment of the last drawn pay minus pension.

He said many PSA oxygen plants have been installed in the country, many are in pipeline and several more have now been sanctioned. 'These must be installed utilizing the various agencies at the disposal of the government expeditiously and certainly within the specified period.' Azad said nations across the world and development agencies have stepped forward in this time of need with oxygen and oxygen equipment. 'These must be distributed proportionately and with a sense of urgency to reach the end use point(s).' In order to quickly provide the huge numbers of beds and hospitals needed, he said 'we could make optimum use of pre-fabricated beds and units to set up additional health facilities and vaccination sites.' To manufacture the prefabricated beds, he said 'we can rope in micro & small-scale enterprises, entrepreneurs, NGOS and CSOs. Similarly prefabricated units can be manufactured quickly by our medium scale enterprises to enable the setting up of field hospitals and vaccination sites. Utilising our available technologies and capacities, we should be able to significantly upgrade our field infrastructure with a fortnight to month.' PTI SKL ZMN

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