Jamshyd Godrej is hot on the prospects of cold-chain infrastructure. Its growing importance in the wake of the world’s largest Covid-19 vaccination drive has thrown up enormous opportunities for him. The chairman and managing director of Godrej & Boyce is still amused by its “urgency and unprecedented scale”.
As countries face innumerable challenges with vaccination programmes, he is on a life-saving mission. The eponymous group of companies is ready to serve the world with its new array of ultra-low temperature freezers. For, inadequate cold chains and lack of infrastructure lead to inefficacy of the vaccine and it costs human lives.
India, which is currently undertaking the world’s largest vaccination programme, is no different. “The vaccination drive has made everyone realise the importance of a strong healthcare infrastructure. With the anticipated healthcare needs and the pandemic as the backdrop, a much needed, very substantial increase in the outlay for healthcare has been just announced in the Union Budget. Over ₹35,000 crore has been budgeted for Covid-19 vaccination expenditure alone. And coupled with the overall strengthening of the medical infrastructure, we expect the vaccine cold chain in the country should get a big boost,” said Jamshyd Godrej at a press conference on Tuesday.
Godrej & Boyce business unit Godrej Appliances, which has partnered the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination drive in India through its advanced, made-in-India, medical refrigeration solutions, has now launched ultra-low temperature freezers for the world. These advanced medical freezers can preserve life-saving medical supplies including critical vaccines below -80° C and are aimed at boosting medical cold chains.
The immediate trigger, of course, was Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine. The company expects export orders from the U.S., Europe, and Africa.
The capacity for ultra-low temperature freezers has been enhanced to 30,000 units, from 10,000 a year ago, to meet the growing demand globally for such freezers.
Jamshyd Godrej says their range of advanced cold-chain solutions and the portfolio covers the entire gamut of vaccine storage needs. “The most common, of course, is between 2° C and 8° C, with the additional needs being -20° C and -80° C. These temperature bands cater to different kind of vaccines and they are perfectly suited for the vaccine deployment not just in India, but all over the world,” he says.
In fact, there is a growing need for precise temperature cooling solutions for several critical medical applications that stretch beyond the Covid-19 vaccination. He names each one of them: vaccine administration centres, blood banks, organ storage banks, eye banks, sperm banks, stem cell banks, and the pharma cold chain, including testing laboratories etc. Besides these there are several applications in animal husbandry, like poultry farms and fisheries, which also require precise cooling and storage, according to Jamshyd Godrej.
The Coronavirus is among many such acellular microorganisms lurking around. “The pharma companies are working actively to fight several potential viruses. H5N1, for example. And these vaccines will continue to need a cold chain. In fact, recent scientific reports are exploring a promise shown by mRNA technology to fight cancer. These mRNA vaccines need ultra-low temperature freezers as well. Therefore, it is important for all countries to be ready with a proper cold chain infrastructure,” says Jamshyd Godrej.
According to a company statement, the ultra-low temperature freezers are suited to mRNA-based vaccines which are being deployed in other countries currently. The mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines are extremely temperature-sensitive as well and must be stored at very cold temperatures. mRNA is constantly at risk of being destroyed by other molecules in the environment. Although manufacturers of the vaccines have made chemical changes to the synthetic mRNA and wrapped it in a protective layer, they need to be stored at temperatures as low as below -80° C, to prevent wastage of vaccines.
No country can afford to face any wastage or inefficiency in the vaccination process due to logistical issues related to their cold-chain infrastructure.
In India, Godrej Appliances is deploying vaccine refrigerators that maintain a precise temperature of 2° C to 8°C to store two vaccines—Covaxin and Covishield, both highly temperature-sensitive, as part of the national tender it received in October 2020.
Kamal Nandi, business head and executive vice-president, Godrej Appliances, says the company had won a national tender of ₹95 crore for 12,000 units—9,000 ice-lined medical refrigerators and 3,000 chest freezers. “So far, we have already delivered around 2,500 medical refrigerators and 500 chest freezers,” says Nandi.
Apart from the national tender, the company has also received orders from international bodies as well as state govt bodies separately. “So, in order to meet the growing demand of medical refrigerators, over the last one year we have been working towards augmenting our capacity. We have augmented our capacity from 10,000 per annum to 35,000 units,” says Nandi.
The vaccination drive has made everyone realise the importance of a strong healthcare infrastructure. With the anticipated healthcare needs and the pandemic as the backdrop, a much needed, very substantial increase in the outlay for healthcare has been just announced in the Union Budget. Over ₹35,000 crore has been budgeted for Covid-19 vaccination expenditure alone. And coupled with the overall strengthening of the medical infrastructure, we expect the vaccine cold chain in the country should get a big boost.Jamshyd Godrej, chairman and MD, Godrej & Boyce.
Medical freezers which maintain -20° C are also being deployed for diluents and ice packs that are needed for last-mile delivery in the Covid-19 vaccination drive. The vaccines run the risk of damage if they are subjected to fluctuations beyond the specified temperature band, leading to both health and economic implications.
Nandi says there is a race against time to undertake vaccination to stop the pandemic. “Last month, the government of India announced the launch of two vaccines—Covishield and Covaxin—and began the immunisation drive. These vaccines require precise temperatures of 2° C to 8° C. Also to administer vaccines, you need dilutants. For reaching out to nearby villages from the health centres, you also need passive carriers which requires ice packs. So for ice packs and dilutants at the health centres, you require chest freezers having temperature of -20° C or -25° C.”
Nandi says that two more vaccines will get added to the list for immunisation in the country—Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D and one from Novavax. Both these vaccines require temperature bands of 2° C-8° C.
According to him, the market for medical cold chain equipment stands at ₹2,000 crore-₹2,500 crore annually.
Mobile Clinic concept
As India takes the immunisation drive to the hinterland, there will be a big challenge—to store vaccines and deliver them. “We are trying a concept called Mobile Clinic. We ran a similar programme in Assam, called Boat Clinic where our refrigerators were mounted on boats and they moved from island to island. Once on the field, they come back only after a week or so. The equipment should hold the precise temperature for a week or 10 days. We have taken the same concept in the Covid-19 immunisation drive. We did a pilot in Maharashtra with a 25-litre refrigerator in a van and our R&D team took the van to the hinterland of Maharashtra, and ran it successfully for three days consecutively without any electric supply,” says Nandi.
The company is now ready to offer the mobile van solution to various health organisations and governments to take forward the entire immunisation programme across the country.
Among the other vaccines, Moderna requires -20° C while Pfizer requires -70° C. The chest freezers that the company developed under the government tender are good enough to keep vaccines at -20° C.
Godrej is also running a training programme to educate healthcare workers to use their equipment and monitor temperature, troubleshooting, and such. It has already trained 600 frontline workers. The company has an extended network of 680 service centres across the country and 5,000 feet-on-street technicians.
For Godrej, which entered the home refrigeration market way back in 1958, it has built six decades’ experience in refrigeration. “With our expertise, we have expanded our portfolio beyond home refrigerators to areas like air-conditioning, deep freezers, medical refrigerators, thermo-electric beverage and food coolers, air-coolers, and a host of other home appliances. We will continue to expand in this domain,” says Jamshyd Godrej.
Godrej is always committed to the founders’ vision of a self-reliant India, he adds.