Shortages of covid-19 jabs may disrupt plans to immunize all adults from 1 May and prolong India’s severe health crisis, states and experts warned on Monday, amid mounting complaints over the vaccination drive.
Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh said they may not be able to meet the increased demand for vaccines amid lack of adequate manufacturing capacity at Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech International to meet even the current demand from people above 45 years of age and healthcare and frontline workers.
As of Monday, around 80 million doses had been administered in April—the manufacturing capacity of Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech put together. While Serum Institute produces 60-70 million Covishield doses per month, Bharat Biotech can make 10 million Covaxin doses every month.
The Centre has denied there is any shortage of vaccine
Punjab said that it is left with only 190,000 doses of covid-19 vaccines, of which more 100,000 were expected to be used up by the end of the day on Monday.
The state’s health department had written to the Union ministry of health on 22 April demanding a million doses but was told it would be sent only 150,000 even as the state prepares to vaccinate everyone above 18 years of age from 1 May, Punjab health minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said. Chief minister Amarinder Singh had asked the department to order 3 million doses of Covishield, he added.
The health ministers of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand—all ruled, like Punjab, by non-Bharatiya Janata Party governments—said on Sunday the vaccine rollout for all adults from 1 May will be delayed due to a shortage of doses. They said they were not getting supplies from BJP-ruled Centre.
“The Serum Institute told us that till 15 May, they may not even be able to complete the prior order of the central government,” said Rajasthan health minister Raghu Sharma.
Similar statements have also been made by governments of Delhi, Maharashtra and Kerala.
Private healthcare providers have also asked the Centre to facilitate ramping up of the vaccination drive from 1 May as hospitals try desperately to stave off deaths due to rapidly increasing infections and shrinking oxygen support.
“Meetings have been held with the government to understand the impact of the changed vaccination system on the availability, purchase, pricing, supply chain and cold chain management and ultimate delivery of the vaccine in the arms of the citizens,” said Harsh Mahajan, president of Nathealth-Healthcare Federation of India.
Lalit Kant, a scientist and former head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) suggested tailoring the rollout on the basis of geography and disease spread.
“India should start vaccinating 18+ by prioritizing the districts. Those districts where positivity rate is above 15 should get it first, followed by those between 5 and 15. This would help ease the pressure on vaccine supplies. Otherwise, it would be an uphill task as it would mean lining up supplies for 60% of population,” Kant said.
Arup Mitra, professor of economics at Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University, questioned the move to expand the vaccination criteria at a time of shortage. “Private sector, manipulators and people seeking monetary benefits will all combine to create complete chaos. It is quite likely that those who will be able to pay more will get access. The common man will have to wait longer. It will not be surprising if the quality of the vaccine may be compromised. Mismanagement of demand and supply is very much on the cards,” said Mitra.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra, the epicentre of the current wave of the pandemic, got fresh supplies of 150,000 vaccine doses on Sunday, enabling its capital Mumbai to open all its vaccination centres on Monday.
The jumbo vaccination centre at Bandra-Kurla complex received 12,000 Covishield doses on Sunday, and was fully functional on Monday, superintendent of the facility, Rajesh Dhere, told Mint. However, smaller centres in the city are the worst hit.