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As India Waits for Covid-19 Vaccine, Air Force Puts 100 Assets on Standby for Distribution

A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

The heavy-lifting of vaccines from pharma companies to 28,000 cold-chain storage centres will fall on the C-17 Globemaster, C-130J Super Hercules and IL 76.

As the government of India draws an extensive distribution plan of the Covid-19 vaccine, the Indian Air Force has put 100 of its assets, including transport planes and helicopters, on standby.

Anticipating that it will be called upon to airlift the vaccine to the remotest parts of the country, the air force has identified three different types of assets that will be pressed for this national duty. The heavy-lifting of vaccines from pharma companies to 28,000 cold-chain storage centres will fall on the C-17 Globemaster, C-130J Super Hercules and IL 76. The AN-32 and Dorniers will be deployed for smaller centres. Last-mile delivery will be the responsibility of ALH, Cheetah and Chinook helicopters.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a task force that will be responsible for the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines to 30 crore Indians who fall in the priority group. Of them, one crore medical and frontline workers will be vaccinated first. The Ministry of Defence, Home Ministry and the Health Ministry are part of this task force.

This is not the first time that the air force will lend a helping hand with vaccine distribution. In 2018, the force played a crucial role in taking the Rubella and Measles vaccine to the farthest corners of India. The current task of distributing the Covid-19 vaccine will have to be undertaken on a war footing similar to the effort during demonetisation when the IAF had carried plane loads of currency to banks across the country.

Vaccine-related operations, as and when they start, will not impact operational readiness of the force vis-a-vis the standoff with China, say sources.