A massive pan-India inoculation drive against COVID-19 was set in process across India on Tuesday, with more than 56 lakh doses of the 'Covishield' vaccine leaving Pune for 13 cities, four days before the inoculation exercise is formally scheduled to begin on January 16.
With this, the vaccine movement has started, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter.
The first two flights operated by "SpiceJet and GoAir from Pune to Delhi and Chennai have taken off", the minister said in the morning.
In a series of tweets, he said that 56.5 lakh doses of vaccines are being transported to Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar, Patna, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Chandigarh, from Pune.
Four airlines are operating nine flights to transport 56.5 lakh doses of the vaccine from Pune to 13 cities across the country on this day, he informed.
Covishield is developed by Oxford University and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and manufactured by the SII.
Delhi, WB, Bihar, Karnataka, other states receive first consignment of vaccines
The first consignment of the vaccines rolled out of the Serum Institute of India facility in Pune early Tuesday and reached Delhi a few hours later.
The SpiceJet flight carrying the vaccines landed at Delhi airport around 10 AM. It left for the national capital around 8 AM.
The Delhi flight was followed by multiple flights to different cities with the airline transporting close to four million Covishield vaccine doses weighing around 11 tonnes on the very first day of shipment, the Gurugram-based airline said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the first consignment of Covishield vaccine by Serum Institute of India (SII), arrived at Kolkata airport in West Bengal and Patna airport in Bihar on Tuesday.
The consignment of the vaccine was brought to Central Family Medical Stores in Bagbazar, Kolkata where it is being stored. In Patna, the consignment was taken to Nalanda Medical College for storage.
Other states and cities including Karnataka, Chennai and Delhi also received the first consignment of the vaccine earlier today.
SpiceJet, GoAir, IndiGo, Air India among airlines transporting vaccines
A 'puja' was performed before the three temperature-controlled trucks rolled out of Serum Institute gates shortly before 5 am and moved towards the Pune airport, about 15 km away, from where the vaccines were flown across India. The "vaccine to kill the disease is being loaded onto the aircrafts for distribution all over the country now", Pune airport tweeted.
SpiceJet on Tuesday carried India's first consignment of Covid vaccine 'Covidshield' consisting of 34 boxes and weighing 1,088 kilograms from Pune to Delhi, said Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing Director, SpiceJet.
"We will be carrying multiple vaccine consignments to different Indian cities including Guwahati, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Bengaluru, Patna and Vijayawada through the day today. SpiceJet is fully committed and prepared to transport the Covid vaccine both within and outside India," added the SpiceJet CMD.
Giving details, SpiceJet said its consignments included 276,000 doses to Guwahati, 996,000 doses to Kolkata, 3,72,000 doses to Hyderabad, 480,000 doses to Bhubaneswar, 648,000 doses to Bengaluru, 552,000 doses to Patna and 408,000 doses to Vijayawada.
Other airlines that transported the vaccines from Pune on Tuesday are GoAir, IndiGo and Air India.
Air India said it carried its first consignment of 2,76,000 vaccine doses, weighing 700 kg approximately, from Pune to Ahmedabad.
IndiGo said it moved 900 kg from Pune to Chandigarh and Lucknow via flight 6E 6515 and 6E 882, respectively.
GoAir, another budget carrier, also kickstarted the vaccine transportation with its first flight from Pune to Chennai carrying 70,800 vials.
"We at GoAir are overwhelmed with the kind of responsibility bestowed upon us to transport the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines. We are grateful that we have got an opportunity to be able to contribute to the vaccine movement and support the noble cause," GoAir CEO Kaushik Khona said in a statement.
"In our efforts to alleviate the complexities of the vaccine movement given the scale of the consignments and logistics, we are taking every possible step to support the institutions and our stakeholders to reach the vaccine in all possible corners of the country," he added.
Government places vaccine order
The government on Monday placed firm orders in advanced commitments for over six crore doses of COVID vaccines from SII and Bharat Biotech for inoculating three crore healthcare and frontline workers in the first phase of the vaccination drive scheduled to start from January 16. The cost is Rs 1,300 crore.
Bharat Biotech has developed the indigenous vaccine Covaxin in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology.
Interacting with chief ministers on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had underscored the enormity of what he called the world's biggest vaccination exercise. Over 30 crore citizens will get the jabs in the next few months in India against only 2.5 crore people vaccinated so far in over 50 countries in around a month, he said.
(With inputs from agencies)