120 million doses ordered as vaccine urgency deepens
The Union government has placed orders for 120 million more doses of coronavirus vaccines with Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, moving to secure more stocks at a time when officials and experts are calling for speedier delivery as a new wave of infections takes holds in several parts of the country.
Of the 120 million doses, 100 million will be of Covishield being manufactured by SII. The remaining will be of Covaxin by Bharat Biotech. The two are the only vaccines approved in India till now for use among people.
From adding an average of 15,494 cases a day at the beginning of March, the country recorded close to 32,000 cases daily over the last week on an average. Experts and the leaders of at least three states – Delhi, Maharashtra and Kerala – have urged the Union government to either allow more people to become eligible for doses or ramp up supplies.
As on Saturday, India has delivered 43.6 million doses of the two vaccines. The vaccination of the first of the general population (people above age of 60 and those older than 45 with particular medical illnesses) began on March 1 and by March 28, the ones who have had their initial doses will need to get their second shots.
“The procurement was to happen in phases -- that has been the plan all long. This is so that when more options open up, which is going to happen in some time, the basket of choice will expand. Also, as demand increases, the cost of vaccines also comes down, which is why it helps to not procure in bulk in one go,” said a senior government official aware of the matter, asking not to be named.
India aims to give doses to 300 million people – health workers, frontline workers and those at highest risk due to their age or comorbid conditions -- by the end of July. But experts now believe as many people as possible should now be allowed to take the doses in order to head off this new wave of cases.
“The vaccination strategy, I think, should remove the age bar if the vaccines are available in plenty. The government is doing it phase-wise, but we need to vaccinate anybody over the age of 18 and quickly. For a state like Maharashtra, vaccinating more people now would not be of much help because the cases have already spread. But, in the case of Delhi and other parts of the country where the surge hasn’t started yet, it will,” said Dr SK Sarin, director of the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences.
Maharashtra on Saturday added over 27,000 cases – the most it has recorded on a single day – and at present accounts for the highest share of new cases among any states. In Delhi, the health bulletin said 813 new cases were recorded – the highest since December 24. The proportion of samples testing positive is also the highest since December 27, although – at 1.07% -- it is comfortably under the ideal threshold of 4%.
Experts said the immediate need to accelerate vaccines is even more acute since the two vaccines India uses offer protection two weeks after the second shot – which means a person will be adequately protected only after 42 days after the begin their dosing.
According to Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, former head of the epidemiology division at the Indian Council of Medical Research, the mRNA vaccines produce quicker protection against the Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. “The mRNA vaccines produce some immunity within 12 to 13 days of being given the first shot,” he said.