NEW DELHI: India will deliver 600 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to the most vulnerable people in the next six to eight months through conventional cold chain systems, news agency Reuters quoted a top government expert leading the initiative as saying.

The government has lined up cold storage facilities with temperatures between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius (36 to 48°F), said V.K. Paul, who heads the group of experts on vaccine administration for Covid-19 that advises India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He said that these preparations meet the requirements of what he said were the four emerging candidates in the race for India’s vaccine.

“The four that I can see, including Serum, Bharat, Zydus, and Sputnik need normal cold chain. I see no problem for these vaccines,” Paul told Reuters in an interview.

Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, is already mass producing and stockpiling AstraZeneca’s Covishield shot, while Indian biotech players Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila are developing their own vaccine candidates. And in November,

Indian pharmaceutical player Hetero inked a deal with Russia’s RDIF to manufacture over 100 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine per year in India.

The government expects the first approvals “very soon” from the independent drug regulator for emergency use, Paul told Reuters, adding: “I am hoping at the earliest because we are ready.”

At present, Indian regulators are considering three vaccines for emergency use authorisation, including those from Pfizer Inc, AstraZeneca and Bharat Biotech. But, Pfizer’s limited stockpiles and its extreme storage condition requirements at minus 70 degrees Celsius or below, would likely limit its use in India, which lacks such infrastructure.

“In a theoretical scenario, where there is no vaccine with conventional cold chain requirement, minus 70 degrees Celsius capacities will have to be created, and we will do so,” Paul said.

Paul said the government is also in talks with Moderna, which also has requirements for ultra-cold storage.

India does not anticipate supplies from either Pfizer or Moderna until the second half of next year, said Paul.

India has the world’s second highest caseload of Covid-19 behind the United States, but its death rate has been far lower. With 30,254 new Covid-19 cases reported in the last 24 hours, India’s total cases reached 98,57,029, said the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) on Sunday.