India, a country of approximately 1.39 billion people, is facing a continuous change in its Covid vaccination policy by the Central government. Addressing the nation on June 7, 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi again took back the responsibility of vaccine purchase in the hands of the Central government.
Earlier, when Covid vaccination was started for 18+ citizens, the Central government had asked respective state governments to purchase vaccine doses for 18-44 age group citizens. This regular change in the vaccination policy can become a hurdle to vaccinate every citizen of the country by the end of 2021 as promised by the government.
Currently, India has two vaccines — Covidshield, made by Serum Institute of India (SII), and Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech. The Sputnik V vaccine, which was approved for use in April, is also available in the country now, with over three million doses supplied by Russia. The government’s target is to produce two billion doses between August and the end of 2021 to vaccinate the entire adult population.
Based on Census 2011 data for India, some 900-950 million people are 18 years and over, and therefore eligible for vaccination. So, two billion doses would largely cover the entire population, as estimated by the government.
The SII recently told the government they would produce 100 million doses per month from June onward and Bharat Biotech had said earlier that their capacity would be boosted to 80 million doses per month from August. These projections for the manufacturing of the currently approved vaccines in India still fall a long way short of the government’s ambition of two billion vaccines to be produced from August to December.
The government has said that it is also in talks with global producers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson&Johnson vaccines for additional supplies to India. But these manufacturers told the government they can discuss the supply of vaccines only by the end of this year.
India’s vaccine manufacturing was hit by a raw material shortage after President Biden invoked the US Defense Production Act (DPA) earlier this year, giving US vaccine makers priority access. The US administration then agreed to provide specific raw materials for the manufacture of Covishield vaccines in India, as the country was hit by another Covid wave.
But the Serum Institute says it still faces shortages of supply of raw materials required for manufacturing Covishield.
The data of the vaccination drives shows India began its vaccination drive in mid-January and over 20 crores vaccine doses have been provided to its citizens so far. In early April, daily vaccinations peaked at 36 lakh, but that figure fell down because many states such as Maharashtra and Delhi stopped the vaccination drive in their states citing shortage of vaccine supply from the Centre.
If the vaccination drive goes by the same pace, then it will take approximately 1.5 years to vaccinate the entire adult population of the country. If a vaccination drive of an entire country has to be completed in less time, then the government and its administration should put extra efforts to maintain a regular supply of vaccines to each state in appropriate time.
When the second wave of coronavirus hit the country, the government had stopped the Indian-manufactured vaccines that were operating under the global Covax vaccine-sharing scheme. The SII has also made clear that it will not export any of its vaccines to other countries. Seeing the large population and shortage of vaccines supply in India, this seems a better decision taken by the government.
Due to unexpected second wave of novel coronavirus in India, it has also affected the Covax vaccine-sharing scheme. The international scheme to ensure equal access to Covid-19 vaccines is 140 million doses short because of India’s continuing Covid crisis. The SII, the largest single supplier to the Covax scheme, has made none of its planned shipments since exports were suspended in March.The SII was due to supply around half of the two billion vaccines for Covax this year but there were no shipments for March, April or May. The shortfall is expected to rise to 190 million doses by the end of June.
The United Nations Children’s Agency, or UNICEF, buys and distributes vaccines to different countries. It has also urged G7 Nations and European Union to share their doses. Seeing the present condition of the coronavirus crisis and unequal supply of vaccines to different nations, the Indian administration and government have to devise a proper strategy so that vaccination of all Indian citizens can be completed by the end of 2021.