India’s top COVID-19 adviser Dr. V.K. Paul has said the States had coerced the Centre into expanding the availability of vaccines despite being aware of being inadequately prepared.
Dr. Paul, Chairman, National Empowered Group on Vaccine Administration, in a press statement Thursday said that vaccine supply, which was managed by the Centre from January-April, was “well administered” but wasn’t upto the mark in May.
The Centre did all the “heavy-lifting”, which included funding vaccine manufacturers , accelerating approvals, ramping up production and bringing foreign vaccines to India.
“The vaccine procured by the Centre is supplied wholly to the States for free administration to people. All this is very much in the knowledge of the States. The Government of India has merely enabled the States to try procuring vaccines on their own, on their explicit requests. The States very well knew the production capacity in the country and what the difficulties are in procuring vaccines directly from abroad,” said his note, which was released by the PIB (Press Information Bureau)in the form of a ‘Myths Vs Facts’ questionnaire.
‘Not easy to procure at short notice’
“States, who had not even achieved good coverage of healthcare workers and frontline workers in three months wanted to open up the process of vaccination and wanted more decentralisation. Health is a state subject & the liberalised vaccine policy was a result of the incessant requests being made by the States to give states more power. The fact that global tenders have not given any results only reaffirm what we have been telling the States from day one: that vaccines are in short supply in the world and it is not easy to procure them at short notice,” the note said.
Since May, vaccinations were opened up to everyone over 18 years of age and the States, as well as private hospitals, were allowed to procure half the vaccines cleared by the Central Research Laboratory, Kasauli. While total weekly doses averaged a highpoint of 2.5 crore in the first weeks of April, it has steadily fallen to 1.2 crore a week from the first week of May and down to 87 lakh in the week 22-28 May, according to data from Co-Win. This month, the Centre had recommended delaying the second shot of Covishield to three months to ensure wider coverage.
Dr. Paul said the country would produce 10 crore doses of Covaxin by October. The earlier estimate was that these production numbers would be reached by September, according to a note from the Department of Biotechnology in mid April.
Covaxin production by Bharat Biotech was being increased from under 1 crore a month to 10 crore by October. Additionally, the three PSUs (Public Sector Undertaking) will together aim to produce up to 4.0 crore doses by December. With the constant encouragement of the government, the Serum Institute of India was ramping up Covishield production of 6.5 crore doses a month to 11.0 crore doses, Dr. Paul said.
Trials in children would begin soon, he said. “However, vaccinating children should not be decided on the basis of panic in WhatsApp groups and because some politicians want to play politics. It has to be a decision taken by our scientists after adequate data is available based on trials.”