After the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Telangana government on Friday received permission for deployment of drones, first of its kind, to conduct experimental delivery of Covid-19 vaccines within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) Range.

The conditional exemption, granted by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), is valid for a period of one year or until further orders, and will be valid only if all conditions and limitations as stated for the respective entities are strictly adhered to, a Ministry statement said.


Trials will also assist in assessing conditions such as population, degree of isolation, geography etc to identify regions that specifically require drone deliveries.

Earlier this month, similar permission was granted to the ICMR for conducting a feasibility study of Covid-19 vaccine delivery using drones in collaboration with IIT Kanpur.

The grant of these permissions is intended to achieve the dual objectives of faster vaccine delivery and improved healthcare access by ensuring primary healthcare delivery at the citizen's doorstep, limiting human exposure to Covid congested or Covid-prone areas through aerial delivery, ensuring access to health care to the last mile, especially in remote areas, and improving the medical supply chain, especially with a third vaccine expected in May. 

Vaccine shortage

However, Covid vaccine shortage has forced health authorities in Telangana to stop the vaccination programme on Saturday and Sunday. Telangana reported 7,754 new Covid-19 cases and 51 deaths during the 24-hour period.

On a day when phase 3 of Covid immunization for those between 18-44 years was scheduled for a roll-out across the country, Telangana had to stop vaccination even for those above 45 years, despite the drone delivery approval.

Director of public health and family welfare Dr G. Srinivas Rao announced that there will be no Covid vaccination programme on May 1 and May 2 in the Government Covid Vaccination Centres (GCVCs) across the state, due to non-receipt of vaccine doses.

This is the second time that Telangana has been forced to stop vaccination due to shortage of vaccine. Earlier, the programme was put on hold for a day on April 18. The state government on Friday stopped supply of Covid vaccines to all private hospitals, who were administering vaccines to individuals above 45 years.

The health department asked the managements of private hospitals to return unused vials of Covid vaccines, if any. Officials said this has been done in line with the guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National Covid-19 Vaccination Strategy. The private hospitals will now have to procure Covid vaccine doses directly from vaccine manufacturers.

Delay in 3rd phase

Meanwhile, the health officials said due to vaccine shortage the rollout of third phase of vaccination may be delayed further.

The state has a population of 1.72 crore in 18-44 age group and it needs nearly 3.6 crore doses of vaccine to complete the programme. The officials say Telangana has daily vaccination capacity of 10 lakh people but lack of sufficient supplies from the Centre is hindering the vaccination.

Telangana government has already announced free vaccination for all the people. However, there is still no clarity as to how the state plans to achieve this. The department has drawn plans to vaccinate 6.6 lakh people daily through 5,000 centres under the third phase of vaccination but this will depend on supplies.

The state government has been demanding the Centre to ensure sufficient and uninterrupted supplies of vaccine doses for smooth implementation of the programme. Health minister Eatala Rajender said two day ago that the Centre should have planned production and supplies or allowed states to import vaccines from other countries.

He said if Telangana had got the required doses, vaccination of the entire 3.3 crore beneficiaries in the state could have been completed within three months. "We are now in discussions with Bharat Biotech and Dr Reddy's Laboratories for vaccine supplies," he said.

Telangana state so far received 49 lakh doses from the Centre with the latest stock of 3.5 lakh received on April 29. On April 30, the authorities administered 1,65,069 doses including 27,765 second dose. With this state has so far given 48,82,830 doses to healthcare workers, frontline workers and priority age group of above 45 years.