The number of COVID-19 cases reported daily has been on the rise in India since the start of April. The country crossed the 3-lakh mark infections on April 21, reporting a biggest spike in daily COVID-19 cases as a devastating second wave of infections overwhelms the country’s healthcare system.
Amid the rapid covid surge, the central government has opened up registration for the next phase of COVID-19 vaccination drive for citizens above 18 years of age from Wednesday, April 28, on CoWin portal, Umang app and Arogya Setu app. From May 1 onwards, all the adult citizens will be eligible to get vaccinated after mandatory registration.
More than 50 crore adults are slated to become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the third phase. According to Centre’s vaccine policy for the third phase, states will have to directly procure vaccine from manufactures or even import India-approved ones from abroad if they so wish, without the government playing the role of allocator. The state governments can only order a maximum of 50 per cent of the total output of a vaccine manufacturer as the other half continues to go to the central government.
The Serum Institute of India (SII) has priced the vaccine at Rs 300 per dose for state governments and Rs 600 per dose for private hospitals. Many states including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, West Bengal, Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have announced free vaccination for all adults at government health facilities. However, the confusion over vaccine procurement has cast a shadow on vaccination drive. There is still a big question to address – is there enough supply to vaccinate every adult in the country from May 1?
On Tuesday, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said they would have to postpone inoculation drive from May 1, if they don’t get enough stock. “Availability of the COVID-19 vaccine is a big question. If we don’t get vaccines, how will we start vaccination from May 1. This is not just our situation, this is a situation every state in India is facing,” he said.
Maharashtra has 5.71 crore people in the 18-44 age bracket and the state government has requisitioned 12 crore vaccine doses from SII and Bharat Biotech but has received no official response. Maharashtra has so far vaccinated more than 1.5 crore people, though the vaccination drive has dwindled over last few weeks due to shortage of doses.
Maharashtra is not alone. There are several states who would have to postpone their vaccination drive from May 1 due to constraints of vaccine availability.
Rajasthan, which has seen a dip in vaccination drive for last 10 days now, have request for 3.75 crore doses but yet to receive a reply from SII and Bharat Biotech. Rajasthan Health Minister was quoted by the Indian Express that SII was occupied with meeting the delivery of orders from the central government which will be delivered only by May 15.
“The Serum Institute told us that till 15 May, they may not even be able to complete the prior order of the central government," said Rajasthan health minister Raghu Sharma.
The Goa government may also fail to start the third phase of vaccination drive from May 1 as it is yet to get the vaccine stock.
“As per information from SII, they are not in position to to supply immediately, as it has to fulfill requests placed by the government of India. Only then they will supply us, and it may take time,” The Times of India (TOI) quoted Dr Jose D’Sa, director of the directorate of health services, as saying.
Chhattisgarh and Punjab have also flagged the shortage in vaccine supplies. While speaking to TOI, Chhattisgarh Health Minister TS Singh Deo said that it will difficult to roll out the vaccination drive from May 1. “From where the vaccine will come? There is no point in approaching vaccine manufacturers as everybody know that there are no vaccines,” he said. The state has ordered 2.5 million doses of Covishield. However, SII has informed that the state that it will only be able to supply these doses in July.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh has expressed it be difficult to start the next vaccination drive on time due to shortage of the doses.
In Odisha too, SII and Bharat Biotech to the government that it could supply the doses in mid-May, but did not provide an exact date.
Meanwhile, Kerala will allow the registration of all adults but the state also requires more stocks to carry out the vaccination drive. Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac on Tuesday tweeted that there is a visible lack of shortage in vaccine distribution.
SII & Bharat Biotech to ramp up production in coming months
Shortages of COVID-19 jabs may disrupt plans to immunize all adults from May 1 and prolong India’s severe health crisis. Both SII and Bharat Biotech will take few more months to ramp up its production to meet the high demand. The Pune-based SII, which has capacity to manufacture 60-65 million doses a month, says it will ramp up production around June-July to produce 100 million doses a month. While Bharat Biotech decided to increase its 10 million doses a month capacity to 100 million doses by September.
Meanwhile, the health minister on Monday said that India’s total vaccination has crossed over 14.5 crore with more than 31 lakh doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered. These include 93,23,439 healthcare workers who have taken the first dose and 60,59,065 healthcare workers have taken the second dose. As many as 1,21,00,254 frontline workers have received the first dose, while 64,11,024 frontline workers have taken the second dose. In the 45 to 60 years beneficiaries,4,92,77,949 people have taken the first dose, while and 26,78,151 people have taken second dose. Also, 5,05,37,922 and 86,98,107 people aged above 60 have taken the first and second dose respectively.