PUNE: The massive airlift of the Covishield vaccine doses from here has been delayed by another 48 hours. It is now likely to happen only by Monday. Vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India has dismissed talk of the transportation delay being due to ‘price negotiations’ with the Union government. Transportation was first expected to begin on Thursday, and then Friday.
Pune airport director Kuldeep Singh said, “No movement has happened today (Friday) too. As said earlier, we are fully prepared and ready from our end. We can easily handle (the transportation) and are at present handling more than 150 tonnes of cargo in a single day.”
An airline representative said on condition of anonymity that “transportation has been postponed until Monday. We don’t have any more information on this right now”.
Meanwhile, SII chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla said, “There is absolutely no price negotiation at all. The rollout will happen in a few days. There are due processes to be followed before we transport the vaccine doses,” he told TOI.
Poonawalla has announced that Covishield will be offered to the government at a special price of Rs 200 a dose for the first 100 million doses. It will be available in the market for Rs 1,000 a dose.
SII has 50 million doses ready at its Manjari plant in Pune. It has been waiting for the government to place a formal order for the doses before it can undertake the massive transportation exercise. Poonwalla said his company is making 50-60 million doses of the vaccine every month.
SII has a fleet of refrigerated trucks to transport the vaccine in cold packs from its plant in Manjari to Pune airport and also to closer destinations, including Mumbai.
At Pune airport, authorities are considering options such as changing domestic flights to cargo flights with the permission of the DGCA and opening a special slot for quick transport of the vaccine, in addition to transporting the vaccine by road, experts and airport officials said.
Officials said all options, including creating a special slot for destinations which do not have scheduled flights from Pune and opening the runway for flights at night, may be considered. At present, Pune airport does not operate flights after 8 pm due to runway re-carpeting work.
IndiGo, in an official statement, said, “In line with our business model and cost leadership strategy, we are happy to evaluate the shipment of Covid-19 vaccines on board our aircraft and will promise to contribute to the best of our abilities.”