As the first wave of COVID-19 showed some signs of decline in India towards the beginning of 2021, there was a ray of hope and people were on the move. With cases falling below the 20,000 mark after a long wait in 2021, the country started opening up. However, the end of the wave did not mark the end of the pandemic. A key driver in pushing the virus out was still lacking a much-awaited vaccine.
The vaccination drive in India was scheduled to start by the 16th of January, 2021. This move was eagerly anticipated by the 1.3 billion and came as a massive sigh of relief as the nation was gripped by the fast-growing pandemic. The initial phase was rolled out for all citizens above the age of 45 and 1st May 2021 marked the rollout of vaccines for the Indian youth above 18 years of age.
Currently, India has primarily 2 vaccines available for the general public: Covishield, from the Serum Institute of India which is the most commonly administered vaccine and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech which has come under some controversy for not being backed by the WHO.
The prices for Covishield were capped at 780 and Covaxin at 1140 by the centre, though many states like Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand are offering free vaccination for all citizens. Although Sputnik V has been rolled out, it is available in some states at cost.
As per reports by the MOHFW, India has already witnessed more than 260 million doses of the vaccine being administered across age groups. This includes 30 million people over the age of 45 who have received both doses and 16 million people between the ages of 18 and 44 who have not got both the jabs.
The initial rollout of the vaccine saw a major gap in supply and demand with people having to wait endlessly to book a slot. The portal also faced major problems and became hard to navigate. However, India has taken on this challenge well and is on the track to get the entire population vaccinated by late 2022. The current rate of vaccination coupled with India’s herd immunity may lead to better things post-2021.
The daily pace of vaccinations in India has again started slowing and has dropped to levels last seen before June 21, when the country had just started the latest phase of its inoculation drive in which the Centre provided free of cost shots to all states. The slowdown comes at a time when there is an unspoken dispute between the Centre and the states over the supply of doses.
Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Odisha among many others, in recent times, have explicitly spoken about the scarcity of doses. Some have even pointed out the Centre’s demand of closing down vaccination centres.
Mansukh Mandaviya, Union Health Minister, lashed out at the states and said that “misinformed” statements being thrown to “create panic” among the citizens regarding the supply of vaccines. In another episode, he made a series of tweets mentioning how the states were “well in advance” aware of the time and volume of doses that were scheduled to be supplied and any shortage was a result of the state’s ”mismanagement”.
A public health expert, in a statement to Hindustan Times said, “It is clear that we are still struggling to produce an adequate number of doses to meet our target of vaccinating all adults by December this year. As we hear, Bharat Biotech is still producing around 20-25 million doses a month, and Sputnik has not opened up for everyone yet. Zydus’s vaccine candidate is in the pipeline but the company has not begun producing it yet, and there are still regulatory clearances to be granted. All this will obviously have an impact.”