Amid a virulent second wave of COVID-19 infections, the government has allowed vaccination of all persons above the age of 18 from May 1.
The decision announced on Monday evening followed a meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday with pharma companies, doctors, Cabinet ministers in charge of health, drugs and officials spanning multiple nodal ministries.
However, questions remain on whether enough stocks of vaccine will be available to cater to the accelerated demand from May. When the year began, the government's plan was to inoculate 30 crore, or about a third of its adult population by August. As of Monday only 8% had got one dose and 1% were fully inoculated.
Immunisation Phase 3
The 'Phase-3' of the National Vaccine Strategy will also enable vaccine manufacturers to sell half their vaccines to State governments and the open market. The rest will mandatorily be sold to the Centre.
Manufacturers would make an advance declaration of the price for 50% supply that would be available to State governments and in the open market, before May 1. Based on this price, States, private hospitals, industrial establishments etc. would be able to procure vaccine doses from the manufacturers.
Private hospitals would have to procure their supplies of vaccines exclusively from the 50% supplied to the States and open market.
As of Monday, India has administered 12.4 crore doses of vaccine since January 16. When it opened up vaccines for those above 45 on April 1, there was an initial surge in the number of vaccinations every day — touching 4.5 lakh on April 5. However, numbers declined steadily thereafter.
On Monday, about 2.8 million doses were administered.
Several States have complained of shortages and having to close down vaccination centres. After initially defending its decision to rationalise vaccine administration as based on “global scientific protocol”, the Centre subsequently allowed imported vaccines to apply for supply without first conducting mandatory local trials.
Serum Institute of India is supposed to have supplied 100 million doses of Covishield every month from May but has said it would not be able to do so before July.
Bharat Biotech, manufaturer of Covaxin, whose current capacity is around 20 crore doses annually, is supplying around 1 crore vaccines a month. It has said it will take around two to three months to start production at its Bengaluru facility, which will take its overall Covaxin manufacturing capacity to 70 crore doses annually, or around 6 crore doses per month. Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine has been approved and is set to begin supply by May though it isn't clear how many doses will be available to Indians.
The ongoing vaccination programme for healthcare workers, frontline workers and those above 45 would continue. All vaccination would be part of the National Vaccination Programme and be obliged to follow all protocol such as being captured on CoWIN platform and report adverse events, The stocks and price per vaccination applicable in all vaccination centres will also have to be reported real-time.
While all vaccines manufactured in the country would have to abide by the 50% rules, imported fully-ready-to-use vaccines can be entirely sold to the States and the open market. The Centre, from its share, would allocate vaccines to States/UTs based on the criteria of extent of infection (number of active Covid cases) & performance (speed of administration).
“Wastage of vaccine will also be considered... and will affect the criteria negatively. Based on the above, state-wise quota would be decided and communicated to the States adequately in advance,” a press note from the government underlined.
Anurag Agrawal, Director, CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology welcomed the move. “What this implies is that a wide range of vaccines, imported and locally produced, will be available in a wide range of price points.”