Despite braving a deadly second wave and overseeing a well-oiled COVID response, the state has displayed an uncharacteristically slow climb to the landmark, falling behind Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. CNBC-TV18's Jude Sannith decodes why these numbers aren't par for the course.
When Tamil Nadu crossed a crore in total number of vaccinations last week and it took the state 149 days to get to the mark. Not only is this slower than neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, but is considerably slower than states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
These comparisons aside, the less-than-ideal pace of inoculations for a state that prides itself on commendable healthcare infrastructure and a well-oiled COVID-19 response, is intriguing and curious.
The state government believes that it can only administer vaccines that it receives from the Centre. So, supplies, presumably just aren't enough.
"We have the necessary infrastructure to administer vaccines in line with how many ever doses the Centre chooses to send us," said Tamil Nadu Health Minister, M Subramanian, speaking to CNBC-TV18. The newly elected minister and DMK strongman has taken it upon himself to ensure that inoculations in the state hit top gear.
"We have the infrastructure to administer between 7 to 8 lakh doses per day up to 1.5 to 2 crore doses per month — provided we get those doses from the Centre," he added.
As of June 21, Tamil Nadu had administered 1.27 crore of COVID-19 vaccines, in comparison to Karnataka's 1.89 crore doses and Andhra Pradesh's 1.39 crore. However, the numbers have been looking up.
While the state managed to administer 12.85 doses in the 18-44 age category in May the first half of June has already seen 9.73 lakh doses administered. The overall number of 22.58 lakh doses in the 18-44 age category (June 15), however, is far from ideal. With another 17 lakh doses expected for the category by the month end, there's every indication that the number could improve.
A key reason for the faltering pace in vaccinations has been a supply crunch that has been problematic on more occasions than one. A shortage of doses even pushed Tamil Nadu to contemplate a pause to the vaccine drive, as daily inoculations fell to a few thousands in the first week of June. By this time, the state’s wastage had also reduced from 8.83 percent to just 4.13 percent.
By this time the state had also tried and failed at floating a global vaccine tender, which it has now shelved, following the Centre’s revised vaccine policy that calls for a centralized procurement of vaccines. "If the Centre plans on procuring 75 percent of vaccine stocks from manufacturers and supplying it free of cost to the states, we see no need for such a tender in the future,” said Subramanian.
While vaccine hesitancy was a major factor in April, increased awareness and a deadly second wave saw better vaccine uptake in the last couple of months. However, hesitancy in rural areas continues to remain a challenge.
While glitches on the supply front are being worked on, with a focus on ensuring rapid and efficient use of existing vaccine doses, Tamil Nadu has also floated a proposal to active the vacant integrated vaccine complex in Chengalpet, just outside Chennai, with an eye on boosting capacities.