Most of the vaccines need 2 to 8 degrees centigrade temperatures, including many of the COVID vaccines other than the likes of Pfizer and Moderna which need storage at much lower temperatures.
Deliverance in the new year will come encased in glass vials stored in cooled boxes. As all hopes hinge on the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines, it is the vials that will carry them and the special storage solutions they will in turn require that matter now. Even as life may not change overnight and caution needs to continue with face masks and social exclusion, Indian companies have upped the game in meeting the new needs for cold storage, glass vials and syringes.
For instance, one of the leading companies in the cold storage space, Godrej Appliances, has not just begun supplies of cold storage solutions but is also working on newer products. The start of the new year will mean Kamal Nandi and his team at Godrej Appliances would have completed half of their committed supplies of vaccine refrigerators to the Indian government. “We are manufacturing about 12,000 units for the ministry of health, government of India and about 50 per cent of the order will be completed by January and the remaining by March 2021,” says Kamal Nandi, business head and executive vice president at Godrej Appliances, a major business division of Godrej & Boyce. The shipping out began in November 2020 and will conclude by March 2021.
The order, worth Rs 95 crore that the Indian government placed in October 2020 is for “ice-lined refrigerators,” Nandi explains while speaking to FE Online, “maintain temperatures between 2 and 8 degrees centigrade. It is based on a very differentiated Sure Chill technology, licensed from the Sure Chill Company in the UK and ensures temperature control without the risk of vaccine freezing.” Most of the vaccines need 2 to 8 degrees centigrade temperatures, including many of the COVID vaccines other than the likes of Pfizer and Moderna which need storage at much lower temperatures.
Typically, Nandi says, a 225 litre ice-lined refrigerator can store anywhere between 40,000 and 50,000 vials depending on the size of the vials. The government order is for 9,000 ice-lined refrigerators and 3,000 deep freezers which is storage at minus 25 degrees centigrade, which is helpful for health centres for freezing the ice packs needed in the vaccine outreach programme across locations.
This is the first big order for the company from the government of India though it has been in this space since 2015 and supplying these vaccine refrigerators to several state governments and even exporting them so fat to about 36 countries. In addition to this major order from the Indian government, the company is also executing an order from UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) of 3,000 such ice-lined refrigerators for its Indian requirement.
Plus, he says, “we are also working on building capabilities and capacities for manufacturing freezers to handle vaccines that require temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees centigrade.” That product, he says, “is under testing right now and once those results are out and hopefully if we get it cleared in January then the product could get launched.” Pfizer vaccine needs storage at minus 70 degrees centigrade and Moderna at a slightly higher temperature. Where as the AstraZeneca, Novavax and others would need the 2 to 8 degrees temperatures.
The order from the Indian government while could meet the needs for the COVID vaccines, these refrigerators could also find use for other non-COVID vaccines too that fall under the India’s elaborate Expanded Programme on Immunisation (or EPI).
Similarly, in the space for glass vials needed for the vaccines, companies have been expanding capacities and ramping up supplies. One of the leading players in this space is SCHOTT Kaisha which began as Kaisha (name derived from the over three decade partnership between Kairus Dadachanji and Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry).
Speaking to FE Online, Kairus Dadachandji, says, “we are well equipped to address the needs for vials and already have requirements from various companies already in place and they are all well covered.” Kaisha supplies vials to several companies, including to say Serum Institute, which is making the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and has applied to the Indian regulator for emergency use authorization, which may be expected over the next few days.
Calling his company, “by far the largest manufacturers in India both in terms of volume and value and with a 60 per cent marketshare in vials,” Dadachandji says, just after the pandemic hit and work on new vaccines began, the company went ahead and expanded its capacity in Gujarat to manufacture vials. “We invested Rs 100 crore to manufacture 300 million additional vials taking the total to 1.5 billion vials in a year capacity with each vial being able to carry 10 doses of the vaccine.”
He says his company has an edge in the technology at its facilities in Gujarat “specially with respect to inspection of the vials that is not available even with some of the big players of the world. Every vial leaving our plants undergoes 300 shots by cameras and this is billions of pieces and they are all inspected for spots or cracks or black spots.”
He says, this is critical because it is not good enough to just say you manufacture USP type 1 vial but it has to be backed by good quality because the vials need to contain a life-saving liquid.
Pre-pandemic, he says, the company had a total capacity to manufacture 1.2 billion vials per annum and now it is up to 1.5 billion vials a year. In addition to this, it also makes syringes, ampoules and cartridges taking the total production of all, including the vials to a total of around 3 billion pieces a year across four plants, including a new plant at Baddi in Himachal Pradesh for ampoules and vials with an additional Rs 50 crore investment.
“We are geared up,” sums up Dr Swati Piramal, vice chairperson of the Piramal Group, which has Piramal Glass, its glass packaging solutions company that makes glass vials on how their company has responded to the new demands for vaccines. This may augur well for it is not them alone but several others – Hindustan Syringe & Medical Devices, Borosil and others have been gearing up and getting orders both from within the country and from abroad.