300mn Covid doses by Oct, says govt panel head
India’s vaccination drive will kick into higher gears progressively over the next three months, with almost 300 million doses being available in October, the head of the government’s technical advisory committee on Covid-19 vaccines said on Wednesday. He added that 150 to 180 million doses will be available in August. According to the Union health minister, 135 million doses were available in July.
The number of doses will further be increased to 200 million by September and 300 million by October in order to ensure that everyone over the age of 18 years is immunised by the end of the year, according to Dr NK Arora, Head, COVID-19 Working Group of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. He did not provide a break up of the enhanced availability.
“We already have the capacity; there are around 75,000 immunisation sites across the country and each site is capable of administering up to 150 doses a day. The focus is also on immunisation in rural areas, with nearly 60% of the doses this month onwards being used in rural areas,” said Dr NK Arora.
The central government placed orders for 66% of its total vaccine purchase only in mid-July; it communicated the need for 660 million vaccine doses to its procurement agency HLL Lifecare on July 16, according to a written answer in the Rajya Sabha.
The government placed orders for procurement of 186 million doses of the vaccine before May, and another 160 million in May when the third phase of the vaccination drive began, according to the data presented.
The Central government has ordered just over 1 billion doses of the vaccine.
Over 445 million vaccine doses have been administered across India till Wednesday evening, according to the government’s CoWIN portal. This includes vaccines that were separately purchased by the private hospitals and state governments between May 1 and June 21 when purchasing at a differential pricing was open for states. In addition, over 433,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine were also administered at private centres in the country.
Dr Arora added that despite slow uptake of the vaccination in the private sector there was no plan to cut down the 25% quota currently reserved for it. The government of India purchases 75% of the total vaccine doses manufactured in the country, for distribution to the states.
“There is no plan to reduce the allocation to private sector; with the government planning to expand the immunisation drive further, the private sector will be a valuable ally. However, if the vaccine doses are not purchased from the manufacturers, of course it will be utilised by the government,” said Dr Arora, adding that the reason cited by private hospitals for not buying enough vaccines is that with free vaccines available people are not opting for jabs at private centres.
“That doesn’t hold true,” he added. “All childhood vaccines are available free in government setup, yet 20% of the vaccines are administered by the private sector, 30% in urban areas.”
Health economist Dr Rijo M John criticised the government’s slow purchase saying in a tweet, “Not even 5% of these orders were placed until late February 2021. Shows the level of seriousness.”
Dr T Jacob John, former head of the department of virology at Christian Medical College-Vellore, said, “Why were advanced purchase orders not given when the trials entered in phase III? Once a vaccine passes phase II, we already know that it is safe and immunogenic; the phase III study just tells us how much. Instead they waited till the drug regulator approved the vaccines and bought the stockpile created by the companies. The manufacturing capacity has been increased only in the last couple of months.”
India’s vaccine drive has also been, in part, hobbled by the inability of Bharat Biotech, which makes Covaxin to increase its capacity to previously planned (and even announced levels). It is expected to achieve the higher capacity shortly, though.