The Centre’s scheme for universal vaccination was meant to kick off on a high note on May 1, and the CoWIN portal which was opened for registrations received as many as 1.2 crore registrations on Day 1. However, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry and it soon became apparent that several states in the country were inadequately stocked to vaccinate people between the ages of 18-44. Andhra Pradesh was one of the first to announce that vaccination for those under 45 will begin only by September this year after all citizens over 45 have been inoculated. Others that followed suit included Delhi, Karnataka, Goa, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, UP, J&K, and Punjab. Tamil Nadu too had deferred its roll-out saying vaccine stocks would not last beyond a week.
Now there appears to be an improvement in the situation. Over the next three days, more than 48 lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses will be delivered to states and UTs, which are already in possession of 75 lakh vaccine doses. As of now, the nation has administered about 15.68 crore vaccine shots, but the scaling up of daily vaccinations is nowhere in the vicinity of covering 35 crore people, by the end of July, as earlier planned by the Centre.
If one considers production capacities, the SII manufactures just about 6 crore doses a month, which the company has promised to ramp up to 9 crore a month by July. Bharat Biotech is also fixed at 1.2 crore doses a month, which it plans on ramping up to 5 crore a month by July, which is still insufficient when one considers the quantum of shots needed in India, for both the first and second doses. According to expert estimates, it might take until December 2021, for India to have enough vaccines to inoculate all adults – approximately 134.5 crore doses.
The Centre must reconsider its vaccine pricing policy pertaining to States, as instructed by the Supreme Court. It must also begin fast-tracking the clearance provided to foreign manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines so that domestic production can be expedited at the earliest. The nod given to Hetero Biopharma for Phase III clinical trials for the Russian vaccine Sputnik V is, for instance, a step in the right direction. There is also a need to extend all the necessary grants for local manufacturers of COVID vaccines so that they can embark on capacity expansion.
Complacency about the Centre’s absence of agreements with foreign drug makers in the thick of the pandemic played a major role in where India finds itself today. With the virus showing no mercy on people of any age group, India must not fail the younger generation, leaving them vulnerable to infections as the pandemic rages on.