The Centre’s vaccination policy fails to inspire confidence among the people who are already reeling under the impact of a devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The affidavit on Covid-19 vaccine production and distribution plans, submitted by the government to the Supreme Court, is ambiguous, opaque and misleading. It is only after the judicial intervention that the broad contours of the vaccination policy have been made public. It now appears that the glaring gap between demand and supply will not be bridged anytime soon. The affidavit suggests that Serum Institute, which manufactures Covishield, and Bharat Biotech, the makers of Covaxin, can together produce 8.5 crore doses a month. This translates into a maximum daily capacity to administer roughly 28 lakh doses. Even going by the expansion plans, India’s monthly vaccine production may not cross 13 crore doses by July, offering potentially 40 lakh jabs daily. This is of little consolation, if the goal is to vaccinate a majority of the population in the quickest possible time. With only 10 crore persons in the 45-plus age group having received their first doses, and even fewer 2.3 crore their second doses, there is confusion and uncertainty over when the 59 crore population in the 18-44 age group will be covered. From the beginning, the Centre’s vaccination policy has been wobbly and tentative. It is the lack of clarity on the part of the Centre that has prompted some States like Telangana to go for global tender to procure the vaccine on an urgent basis.
Opting for global tenders is a pragmatic decision, given the fact that the United States is already reporting supply gluts. Its Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson can help India in accelerating the inoculation coverage. India needs about 9 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine per day to inoculate all adults by September-October this year. Unfortunately, the current availability is less than one-third of that level. And, the total number of registrations on CoWIN portal is over 19 crore while the number of doses being administered per day, including first and second dose, has fallen to 20 lakh from a high of over 40 lakh doses in early April. At the current pace of inoculation, it would take three months to vaccinate just those who have registered till now. By stating that it would purchase only 50% of the vaccine doses and allow vaccine manufacturers to sell the balance directly to the States and private entities at higher prices, the Centre has virtually abdicated its responsibility in ensuring equitable and smooth distribution of vaccines to all. The failure on the part of the Union government to invest in increasing vaccine production capacity has resulted in a desperate shortage of vaccines.
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