NEW DELHI : India plans to use its ambitious solar program to provide uninterrupted power to cold chain vaccine storage facilities, which would give a big boost to nationwide Covid-19 vaccination.
Given the uncertain power supply in several parts of the country, especially in rural India, plans to use solar power are gaining in importance. The country has set a goal of having 100 GW of solar power generation capacity by 2022, with a focus on rooftop and decentralized solar systems.
On the vaccine front, nearly 880 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the past nine months, but the country's goal for the universal vaccination program for children and pregnant women is close to 100 million a year. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Covid may eventually become endemic that requires annual vaccination, leading the government to recognize the importance of robust cold chain facilities.
“There are over 29,000 cold chain warehouses across India that store both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 vaccines. Using solar power for vaccine storage isn't new in India, but the boost comes largely after Covid-19. We are expanding solar energy to other cold chain points for vaccine storage. We have started using newer technologies such as solar-powered, direct-drive cold chain equipment, ”said a senior health department official.
According to the Ministry of Health, 30 million pregnant women need 45 million doses of vaccine annually and 27 million newborns need to be vaccinated five times in the first year. “As the Covid-19 vaccinations are carried out on a much larger scale, we recently carried out a gap analysis of the cold chains and decided to further strengthen the vaccine storage systems. There are two ways to use solar energy to store vaccines. On the one hand, the storage systems are operated with solar energy or the building with the system uses solar energy to generate electricity. In unreliable power supply areas, we have the use of electricity storage and other backups so that there is no chance of vaccines being tainted, ”said the health ministry official.
“All equipment used to be imported, but after the government's Make-in-India push, Godrej has for the first time made a home-grown solar freezer that is used in several states and we are expanding to all parts of the country. We distribute the equipment that will keep the required temperature for vaccines at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, “he said.
The official said more than 350 imported solar panels have been deployed across India in the past five years.
India also receives cold chain equipment (CCE) that UNICEF sources from other countries. The government of Bihar received the first tranche of the CCE on Monday, which UNICEF raised as part of the Japanese government's support for India's Covid-19 vaccination campaign. Japan's funding includes the procurement and distribution of walk-in coolers, walk-in freezers, solar direct drives, freeze-free vaccine trays, tool kits, freezer labels and voltage stabilizers that will support the vaccination campaign in 25 states.
The center has also attracted private companies to run cold chain systems using solar power.
“Many areas are supplied with electricity for less than 16-18 hours a day on average. We have solar powered, self-powered devices that are used to store vaccines. These units are powered by solar energy, which ensures vaccines are stored safely around the clock even when there is a lack of reliable electricity, “said Jesal Doshi, executive vice president of B Medical Systems, a global medical device company.
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