New Delhi: Touted as the world’s biggest vaccination drive, India started its inoculation drive on January 16, however, the vaccine programme is being staggered by supply shortages and an abrupt shift in procurement policy that appears to be without parallel, The Washington Post reported.
The report stated as India battles a devastating outbreak of the novel virus where thousands are losing their lives each day, India urgently needs to vaccinate its population as soon as possible. Yet the vaccine drive is stumbling just when it is most crucial, the report further said. Over the past six weeks, the number of vaccinations per day has fallen by about half, from a high of 4.2 million (42 lakh) per day on April 2 to 2 million (20 lakh) last Thursday.
The report said, “Vaunted as the largest in the world, India's vaccine programme is being hobbled by supply shortages and an abrupt shift in procurement policy that appears to be without parallel. The woes of the inoculation drive are especially striking given India's unique advantages, including a large vaccine industry and a record of mass immunisation campaigns.”
Few months back, public health experts were counting on India to play a vital role in supplying vaccines against COVID to the world. The government was so confident of its ability to meet domestic demand for vaccines that it permitted more than 60 million doses to be exported or donated to other countries between January and March, according to the report. Marred with rise in spread of new cases, India halted exports at the end of March and has started importing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine to try to alleviate the shortfall in local production. Last week, the government acknowledged that vaccine shortages in India will persist at least until July, the report said.
Vaccinating India's more than 1.3 billion (135 crore) people was always going to be a monumental task. But experts say that India's present predicament is the product of miscalculations and optimistic predictions by policymakers and manufacturers, the report said.
Serum Institute of India (SII), one of the largest vaccine makers in the world, hit deals early in the pandemic to make hundreds of millions of doses for India and other countries. That target remained elusive. Serum's current monthly production of the AstraZeneca vaccine hovers around 65 million to 70 million doses a month.
SII CEO, Adar Poonawalla has cited shifting reasons for the company's inability to increase production further, including lack of funds and a fire that broke out in January at a newly constructed building (At the time of the fire, he had said it would not affect manufacturing), the report said. He did not cite previous curbs on exports of raw materials by the United States as a factor affecting the production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, something he implied in a tweet last month. The company now says it will start manufacturing 100 million such doses a month in July, the report said.
Explaining the need for a huge of doses in India, the company in a statement on Tuesday said, “Important factor that people do not tend to realise is that we are amongst the two most populous countries in the world, a vaccination drive for such a large population cannot be completed within 2-3 months, as there are several factors and challenges involved.”
The report on the other hand stated that the Indian government displayed little urgency about buying large amounts of vaccines in advance, unlike governments in the US and Europe. Desperate for supplies, nine Indian states and two cities -- Delhi and Mumbai -- have already clarified that they will attempt to buy vaccines directly from global manufacturers, opposing them against each other in the international market, it said.
(With agency inputs)