It is ironic that India’s vaccination drive is floundering at a time when it should have been progressing on a war footing to fight the devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The paradox is all the more grim because India is considered the vaccine capital of the world. Even four months after the launch of the vaccination drive, it has managed to fully inoculate just 3% of the population while 10% of the people have received one shot each. In sharp contrast, the United States and the UK have administered one dose to around half of their population, while about one-third of their citizens have been completely vaccinated. With the third wave seemingly inevitable, the grim situation may worsen in India as the vast majority might remain unprotected against the deadly virus. The number of daily inoculations dropped to half from 40 lakh a day in April to just 20 lakh a day in the current month. At this pace, it would take more than one-and-a-half years to administer just the first dose to the entire population. The Centre has lost precious time in providing assistance to the vaccine makers to ramp up production. The longer the government takes to remove the production bottlenecks and plug supply gaps, the weaker the vaccine lifeline will become. With India losing roughly three lives to Covid-19 every minute, there is not a moment to lose. Major international players like Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are still not on board.
The shortage of jabs in several States has hindered the vaccination programme over the last few weeks. In addition, glitches in online slot booking and registrations through CoWIN app and portal are delaying the process further. To bridge the gap between demand and supply, India needs to accelerate both the development of vaccines in advanced stages and bring other vaccines into the country. Though the Centre has announced that over two billion doses would be made available by the year-end, these distant targets provide no immediate comfort to the people waiting desperately for the jabs. There is an urgent need to revisit the vaccination strategy and take it up on a war footing. The United States launched Operation Warp Speed last May and is now reaping the benefits of it. India needs to replicate a similar model to remove bottlenecks and constraints and address supply challenges through rapid-fire decisions. For this, a partnership between the government and the private sector, of the kind not seen in the past, must be built. India needs to capitalise on the manufacturing strength of the pharma industry, take stock of all domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity and plan how this can be retrofitted and scaled up.