Centre orders 440 million more Covid-19 vaccine doses
- Officials familiar with the development, who did not wish to be identified, said there is a possibility that the ₹150 per dose cost of vaccine may no longer be applicable, and that the Centre may have to pay more.
The Centre on Tuesday placed fresh orders for 440 million additional doses of Covid-19 vaccines – 250 million doses of Covishield and 190 million of Covaxin – a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Union government was taking back the responsibility for procuring vaccines and distributing them for free to states.
These 440 million doses, to be procured from August onwards, are in addition to an advance order of 300 million doses placed with Hyderabad-based Biological E’s vaccine and will be delivered by December, the Union health ministry said. To be sure, the Biological E vaccine has just entered Phase 3 trials.
“Following PM’s announcement on change in vaccine policy, we have placed purchase orders for 25 crore (250 million) doses of Covishield with the Serum Institute of India, and for 19 crore (190 million) vaccine doses with Bharat Biotech... So, we have placed an advance order for 44 crore (440 million) doses from August onwards, for which we will be releasing 30% payment in advance,” Dr VK Paul, member (health), Niti Aayog, said at the Union health ministry’s Covid-19 briefing on Tuesday.
Paul did not specify the price at which Centre will be procuring the doses in the latest order. Officials familiar with the development, who did not wish to be identified, said there is a possibility that the ₹150 per dose cost of vaccine may no longer be applicable, and that the Centre may have to pay more.
The Centre last week announced that it placed an advanced order of 300 million doses for Biological E’s RBD protein sub-unit Covid-19 vaccine, which is in clinical trials. “We are hopeful that this innovative vaccine that is being developed with central government’s assistance, will be available by September, and ₹1,500 crore has already been paid to the company in advance. So, 74 crore (740 million) doses have been secured for the national programme,” Paul said.
The orders for the 740 million doses are in addition to the 536 million doses of vaccine for which procurement has been arranged till the end of July, he said. To be sure, the 536 million number includes the total doses administered across the country so far. Till Tuesday morning, according to government data, 236 million doses have been administered across the country.
This means that including Tuesday’s orders and the 300 million doses ordered of the yet-to-be-approved Biological E vaccine, the country has now administered, procured or placed orders for nearly 1.3 billion doses – 536 million doses administered or procured for July end, 300 million shots of the Biological E vaccine, and 440 million in latest purchase order.
The vaccine order placement comes a day after the Prime Minister , in an address to the nation, announced that the Union government was taking over the responsibility for procuring vaccines and would then distribute them free of cost to states, in response to a rising chorus from the states, sharp criticism by the Supreme Court, and amid increasing concerns that supply shortages and the insistence of foreign vaccine makers that they would only deal with the Union government.
The latest developments in the vaccine policy change have come close on the heels of a hearing in the Supreme Court on the Covid-19 situation and the state of vaccination in the country. In the latest hearing, the apex court said the Centre’s vaccination policy that put the onus of giving doses to adults in the below-45 years age group entirely on states and private hospitals was “prima facie arbitrary and irrational”.
On Tuesday, Paul said that the shift back to the largely centralised vaccine procurement policy was based on feedback over the past month from chief ministers of at least a dozen states. “We respect the Supreme Court’s guidance and concern , but the government was evaluating the implementation of the decentralised model since May 1.”
The states that requested for the central procurement are Punjab, Kerala, Sikkim, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Tripura and Maharashtra, along with the Union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
“We believe, based on specific requests of chief ministers, the new guidelines will go a very long way in galvanising India’s vaccination programme,” he said. “The PM reviewed India’s vaccination progress in two meetings, on May 15 and 21, and directed us to prepare an alternate model. On May 24, a high level expert team, including myself, reached out to the manufacturers... Other teams reached out to states to know their mind and finally we chalked the new roadmap that was presented to the PM who approved it,” said Paul.
Experts, however, said steps taken by Centre now should have come much earlier.
India has so far administered 236 million vaccine doses to 189 million people since January 16, 2021, when the national Covid-19 vaccination drive was launched. A total of 143 million people have received one dose, while 47 million people have been fully vaccinated. Under the free vaccine doses, the central government has distributed 246.5 million doses so far to states, according to the government data. “A total of 11,946,925 Covid vaccine doses are still available with the states/UTs to be administered,” said Union health ministry in a statement issued on Tuesday.