Vehicles containing COVISHIELD, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, leave the airport after a consignment of the vaccines arrived from the western city of Pune for its distribution, in Ahmedabad, India, January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla on Tuesday described the dispatch of Covishield vaccines for the January 16 national inoculation drive a “proud and historic” moment.

Vaccinations are set to begin on Saturday in an effort that authorities hope will see 300 million high-risk people inoculated over the next six to eight months.

First to get the vaccine will be 30 million health and other frontline workers, followed by about 270 million older than 50 or deemed high-risk.

Early Tuesday, the first consignment of the vaccines rolled out of the SII facility in Pune for transport to various locations in the country.

Speaking to the select media persons at the SII facility, Poonawalla said the real challenge lies in taking the vaccine to the “common man, to the vulnerable groups of people and to healthcare workers”.

“Our trucks left the SII facility early morning and now the vaccine is being distributed in the entire country. This is a proud and historic moment as scientists, experts and all other stake-holders took great efforts while making this vaccine in less than a year,” he said.

Poonawalla said the SII has offered the vaccine to the government of India (GoI) at a special price of Rs 200 (just over £2).

“This is one of the most affordable vaccines in the world and we are offering it to the GoI at a special price just to support the (Indian) prime minister’s vision and to support the ”aam aadami” (common man) of our country,” he added.

He also said that once the SII get the requisite permission, the vaccine will be made available in the private market at the cost Rs 1,000 (over £10).

Poonawalla further said the SII is not only providing the vaccine in India, “but it is also committed to provide it to other countries who are looking at India at this point”.

Covishield is developed by Oxford University and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and manufactured by the SII.

A ”puja” (ceremonial worship) 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.

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