A massive shortage of vaccine doses is hampering the country’s ambitious plan for adult immunisation. Phase-3 of the Covid-19 vaccination programme for people above 18 years that kicked off on May 1, has been hamstrung with chaos with states confirming that they were not in a position to keep pace with the demand due to shortage of supply.
On April 28, India opened up registrations for anyone above 18 years of age for the roll-out of the nationwide drive on May 1. However, most of the states delayed the onset of the third phase because of a shortage in the supply of doses. Vaccination outlets in Mumbai remained closed for some time. The introduction of the third phase has also marred the vaccination of those over 45 years because of the shortage.
The country boasts of having charted a vibrant vaccination graph. But the numbers are a small figure considering the mammoth population of India. There is an urgent need to open more vaccination points, increase their efficiency, ensure uninterrupted supply and spruce the communication programme to remove the vaccine hesitancy.
If the country was not having enough doses of vaccine why did it accelerate phase 3 of the vaccination drive?
Only around 12 of the 36 states and Union territories had enough doses to roll out the third phase and that too in a limited way. Since the beginning of the phased vaccination drive on 16 January 2021, a total of around 17,96,19,697 people have registered themselves on the Indian government’s online registration platform. This includes 5,27,80,480 in the age bracket 18-44 years.
Serum Institute of India Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla has said in an interview with Financial Times that India’s Covid-19 vaccine shortage would continue through July. He said that the production of the vaccines is expected to increase from 60-70 million doses (6-7 crore) to 100 million (10 crore) by then. Experts also feel that the vaccine production
In a statement, the SII said that vaccine manufacturing is a specialized process. “It is therefore not possible to ramp up production overnight. We also need to understand that the population of India is huge and to produce enough doses for all adults is not an easy task.”
The statement issued on May 3 said that as of today the company has received a total order of 26 crore doses of which more than 15 crore doses has been supplied.
According to the latest update made by the Health Ministry on May 4 more than 2,29 lakh beneficiaries of age group 18-44 were vaccinated in the last 24 hours. Besides, the government said that more than 6 lakh total vaccine doses have been administered to the 18-44 age group till now. The ministry said that as on May 5, the government had so far provided more than 17.02 crore vaccine doses to States/UTs free of cost. More than 94.47 lakh doses are still available with the States/UTs to be administered. Over 36 lakh doses, in addition, will be received by the States/UTs in the next 3 days.
As on May 5 at 8 am, the total number of confirmed cases stood at 2,06,65,148 while the recovered cases were 1,69,51,731 (82 percent). The number of active cases pegged at 34,87,229 and there were 2,26,188 (1.09 percent) deaths.
Experts maintain that the only way to defeat the pandemic is vaccination. While there were initial issues of vaccine hesitancy when the country rolled out the adult immunisation programme on January 16, but gradually the hesitancy declined and people over 45 years started registering. They were however grappled with delays, failures in registrations and uncertainty on getting the vaccine.
Experts have also criticised the government for starting the vaccination of those in the 18-44 years of age when the percentage of those vaccinated above 45 years—the age bracket that needs it most—was still dismally low. They argue that the government should have mapped a clear deadline for the vaccination drive—as to how many would be vaccinated by when. In the absence of a clear strategy and timetable, the entire immunisation drive has been thrown into chaos.
The happenings in the last few weeks reflecting on the utter lack of coordination between both the Center and the States. The government should understand that this is not the time for slapping blames. The foremost task should be to take on the responsibility for safeguarding the health of people. Infrastructure hiccups, logistics constraints, manpower shortage—all these challenges need to tackled urgently to prevent this kind of grim situation from surfacing again.
The second Covid wave has also brought to the fore the total lack of preparation of the government at all levels. The political landscape has been mired with mudslinging and apathy. Besides, the government must make a firm effort to build a pool of health data and statistics with continuous updates. The data should be made transparent. This requires a consistent motivation of all the scientists working in this area. More than 200 scientists who have been working to combat the coronavirus pandemic have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi for broader access to the testing data that is being collated by the Indian Council of Medical Research(ICMR).
The common man, health workers have emerged as the real saviours. Social media has been inundated will message seeking help for oxygen, hospital beds and ventilators. The most important lesson that this pandemic has taught us is the importance of humanity. Help and assistance in so many forms have poured in from the common man. The government need to be tutored for tackling the menace.
—Vanita Srivastava is an independent health and science journalist and is currently working as a Senior Project Scientist at IIT Delhi. The views expressed are personal.
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)