As the euphoria over reaching the one billion dose milestone subsides, there is a growing realisation that a lot of work remains to be done and there is no need for premature celebration. India needs to significantly ramp up vaccine production to meet its target of inoculating the entire adult population — nearly 95 crore — by the end of December. The country has to administer more than 1.5 crore doses a day in order to reach the goal. However, the daily average since the start of the drive has been around 36 lakh doses a day, which is also a truer reflection of the manufacturing capacity. While it is remarkable for any country to touch the one-billion-mark in nine months since the launch of the inoculation drive, the milestone could have been reached earlier. In the first week of April itself, India had demonstrated that it had the capacity to administer 5 million doses per day. The tempo should have been sustained by increasing the production. At some point, the country will have to vaccinate the entire population, and vaccines for children under 18 years of age are only just being approved in the country. Hence, there is still a long way to go. Apart from this, there are chances that booster doses might need to be administered in 2022, a possibility the country needs to be prepared for. In May, it was announced that the country would produce 2.15 billion doses between August and December 2021 but the government later called it ‘aspirational’ and brought down the target to 1.35 billion doses.
As against the government’s projection of 25 million doses of Covaxin per month in May-June, the actual production of the indigenously developed vaccine was less than 10 million doses per month during the period. Again, Bharat Biotech, the maker of Covaxin, was targeted to produce 55 million doses per month by August this year but even in September, India was not making more than 24 million doses per month. The three public sector units, which have been given permission to produce it, will come up with their first dose only early next year. The rise in vaccination rates was made possible only because Covishield production was increased by Serum Institute India (SII). Another factor that slowed down the vaccination drive was the poor offtake of the Russian vaccine Sputnik-V. India had imported 3.3 million doses of Sputnik-V by July-August but less than 1 million doses of the vaccine have been administered so far. The national vaccination policy had faced several hiccups: frequent changes in vaccine procurement, distribution and pricing and lack of clarity on the private sector’s capacity to deliver vaccines beyond the metros.