India on Tuesday began shipping COVID-19 vaccines to its major cities, days ahead of launching its countrywide inoculation campaign.
The first batches of Covishield left the Serum Institute of India (SII) plant in the western city of Pune for national capital New Delhi and 12 more cities.
Footage on news channels showed refrigerated trucks leaving the facility after a brief Hindu prayer ceremony for the city’s airport from where it was being transported to cities.
“Ready, get set, go! Stand by India! The vaccine to kill the disease is being loaded into the aircraft for distribution all over the country now,” Pune airport tweeted.
Civil Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, who described it as a “momentous mission” said nine flights from Pune would transport 5.6 million doses to Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Vijaywada, Bhubaneshwar, Patna, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Chandigarh.
Covishield, developed by Britain’s Oxford University and AstraZeneca, is manufactured by the SII, the world’s largest vaccine maker.
India’s domestically made vaccine, Covaxin, will also soon be shipped from Bharat Biotech’s facility in Hyderabad city, local media reported.
India, the second-most populous country with 1.3 billion inhabitants, plans to begin one of the world’s biggest inoculation programmes from Saturday.
The government plans to vaccinate 300 million people by July. An estimated 30 million health and front-line workers will be the first to get the vaccination, followed by 270 million people aged over 50 or deemed high-risk.
At over 10.4 million infections, India has the highest number of COVID-19 cases after the United States. The death toll stands at 151,327.