Covid vaccination drive slows down; Centre, states clash on supply
The pace of daily vaccinations across India has again started slowing, and has now dropped to levels last seen before June 21, when the country started the latest phase of its inoculation drive in which the Centre provides shots free of cost to all states.
The slowdown comes at a time when the states and the Centre are locked in a war of words over supply of doses.
At least six states, Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Odisha, have said in recent days that they are facing severe scarcity of doses, and some have said they’ve been forced to close down vaccination centres.
Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Wednesday hit back at the states, and alleged that “misinformed” statements were being put out to “create panic” among people regarding vaccine supply. He added in a series of tweets that states knew “well in advance” the time and volume of doses they were scheduled to get, so any supply shortage was the result of “mismanagement” at the state level.
As the new vaccine policy kicked off on June 21, India’s vaccination rate soared to its highest ever. On the first day of the new drive, more than 8.6 million doses were administered – the highest daily vaccinations to date. This remained high the first week or so of the new phase with the average inoculation pace touching a peak of 6.4 million jabs a day for the week ending June 26, according to HT’s Covid-19 dashboard.
Since then, however, this has been consistently dropping. In the last seven days of June, an average of 4.8 million doses were administered every day across the country, while this dropped to 4.2 million jabs a day in the first week of July.
On average, 3.4 million doses were administered every day across India in the past seven days – marking a drop of 46% from the peak vaccination rate. The last time India’s vaccination drive was at this pace was before the June 21 shake-up.
To be sure, this trend where there’s a rapid rise in numbers that isn’t sustained over a longer period is not new. At the start of April, when the vaccine eligibility was extended to all residents over the age of 45, a similar jump was witnessed where the daily rate jumped from 1.7 million doses a day in the last week of March to 4.2 million for the week ending April 12 (a rise of 140%). However, by May, this rate had again dropped to under 2 million doses a day.
The issue, experts say, is of production and supply. India’s vaccine drive has been hobbled by the inability of Bharat Biotech, whose vaccine was approved in January (along with Serum Institute’s Covishield) to increase production to expected levels. Supplies are anticipated to increase starting August, although it will take some doing for the country to fully vaccinate all adults by the end of December as the government has repeatedly said it wants to.
“It is clear that we are still struggling to produce 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,” said a public health expert, requesting anonymity.
Mandaviya said on Wednesday that the estimated supply of vaccines for the states and UTs for July has been increased from earlier figure of 120 million doses to 135 million. Even this translates into 4.35 million doses a day.
Till date, 311 million people have received vaccine shots across the country, out of which 235 million have been partially vaccinated and another 76 million are completely vaccinated. This means that 25% of India’s estimated 940 million adults have been partially vaccinated, while another 8% are fully vaccinated. To completely vaccinate all adults, 705 million people still need to be administered their first shots, while another 863 million second doses will be needed. This translates to a requirement of administering 9 million doses every day for the rest of the year to meet the year-end target.
“The states know very well when and in what quantity they will get the vaccine doses... If the Centre is already giving this information in advance and yet we see mismanagement and long queues of vaccine takers, then it is very clear what the problem is and who is the reason behind it,” Mandaviya tweeted in Hindi.
The Centre told the states on June 19 about how many doses of the vaccine would be made available to them in the month of July for them to plan their vaccination drive accordingly, according to another senior central government official.
But several states have voiced concerns in the past few days about shortage of vaccines and patchy supply.
On Wednesday, Odisha said it has suspended vaccination in 11 of the 30 districts as it did not have enough Covishield vaccines. On Wednesday morning, Odisha said there were not enough doses to vaccinate people in all 30 districts.
Rajasthan also said that inoculation sessions were not conducted in 25 of its 33 districts on Monday due to shortage; while a senior West Bengal health department official said that the state was finding it difficult to distribute doses among its 23 districts.
On Tuesday, Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying the state was not getting supplies proportionate to its population.
Similar shortages appeared to beset the drive in Maharashtra, where many centres were shut this week due lack of doses, the state said. In Delhi, health minister Satyendar Jain said on Tuesday, “We have the capability to administer 3 to 4 lakh doses a day. But there is a shortage of vaccines. We have received a small stock... which will not last beyond Tuesday or one half of Wednesday. We have to shut down vaccination centres...”
The supply cycle is set to experience further pressure as the people who became eligible for doses on May 1 (when the drive was thrown open to all adults), become due for their second dose of Covishield (which is currently being administered at a gap of 12-16 weeks) in the final week of July.
“Vaccination is the most potent weapon to fight Covid pandemic as has been done in US, UK, Israel and other countries that are returning to normalcy to some extent. Also, there is enough evidence to show that vaccines provide 100% protection against severe Covid-19 disease even though effectiveness of the vaccines is yet to be ascertained,” said Dr GC Khilnani, former head, pulmonology department, AIIMS, Delhi.
(With inputs from HT state bureaus and agencies)