As of May 15, approximately 14.1 crore people have received the first dose of Covid vaccine in India, which is only 10.2% of India’s population. Of these, only 4.04 crore people have received both the doses. These figures are significantly lower than that in the US and UK. While in the US, almost 47% of the population has received the first dose of vaccine and 36% has received both doses, in the UK, 54% have received their first dose and 28% have been fully vaccinated. Even after five months in India, the low number of vaccinations is due to a shortage of vaccine supply.
The Indian government started the third phase of mass vaccination drive for people aged 18-45 May 1 onward. But in many states, only 45+ people are able to get the jab. Many state and private centres are unable to get the vaccine reasoned the lack of vaccine for this. At the same time, the Union Health Minister said there is no shortage of vaccines in the country, but the figures show a different picture.
In India, 35 lakh people were being vaccinated every day in the first week of April, but due to the lack of vaccine, this number first dropped to 21 lakh per day in the last week of April and further to 16 lakh in May. India’s lack of production capacity, among other reasons, is the main reason for this shortage.
Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, is currently producing 5-7 crore vaccine doses every month, whereas Bharat Biotech has increased it monthly production to two crore doses from May — these numbers are not enough to vaccinate India’s population before the possible third wave. Vaccination in India started on January 16, 2021, and the Government of India had targeted to vaccinate 30 crore Indians by July 2021, for which India should have supplied around 65 crore vaccines by now. But the production capacity has not increased as per the set target.
The Indian government made two mistakes here. The first is that they did not place enough pre-bookings for the vaccine. While the United States and the UK pre-booked the vaccine in large quantities from different companies across the world, the Government of India waited till January 2021 to place the order, that too, of only 1.65 crore doses and in February, for only 1.5 crore doses.
In March, the first major order (12 crore doses) of the vaccine was placed when the second wave hit India. But the question is: why was the pre-booking of doses not done by the Centre when SII was ready to offer 100 million doses to India in December 2020. Pre-booking would not only have increased the speed of vaccination, but also helped the company increase its production capacity for right now, when we require accelerated production rate.
The second mistake by the government is in its vaccine policy. India exported more than 6.6 crore doses of Covid-19 vaccine to 95 countries under the Vaccine Maitri Programme. About one crore were from government grants, two crore doses were sent as part of the global Covax facility and the remaining 3.6 crore were sent as commercial exports.
This was a commendable move except that the second wave of Covid in India proved to be more frightening. The Government of India failed to understand the seriousness of the situation in India despite multiple warnings by experts.
In the first two weeks of the vaccination campaign from January 16, India inoculated 39 lakh doses. By the end of January, the country had already exported 1.6 crore doses. In February, India exported 2.1 crore doses and vaccinated only 1.1 crore people in India. By the end of March, the country had exported more than the vaccine it had inoculated.
Recently, the Government of India informed that India would have 200 crore vaccine doses by the end of December 2021, but the concern is that only 16-17 crore of them will be available between May and July, due to which the risk of a third Covid-19 wave will be higher. The Centre must accept the truth of the crisis and vaccinate as many people as possible and as soon as possible to minimise human loss in the third wave.