Ramping up supply: On COVID-19 vaccination woes

Spikes, dips in vaccination rates are normal, but India needs to guard against slackening

Updated - July 15, 2021 12:19 pm IST

Published - July 15, 2021 12:02 am IST

Less than a month after the Centre revised its vaccination policy and took over the responsibility of vaccine procurement from the States , old worries of a supply constraint appear to have resurfaced. The Centre’s CoWIN database shows that the weekly pace of vaccination has declined to nearly 60% of what was seen in the week after June 21, causing several States, particularly in South India, to complain of a shortage. On June 21, the first day of the new policy, 91 lakh doses were administered and until June 27, it was about 4 crore. The period July 5-11 saw only 2.3 crore vaccine doses dispensed. The Centre’s move to take over vaccine administration followed a chaotic April-May when the second wave roiled India with unprecedented ferocity. This was also the time that saw a surge in vaccine demand and the country being unable to deliver because of an underestimation of the need and demand. The heady week of June 21-27 saw 60 lakh vaccines a day becoming the norm. However, the last time India crossed that daily figure was July 3. At least 86 lakh doses have to be administered every day if all Indian adults are to be fully vaccinated by the year end. Beginning this week, the daily doses have again slipped to 30-40 lakh though this is better than in May when India struggled to provide even 20 lakh doses a day.

There are two major concerns with the slackening pace. One, India still has managed to inoculate only 33% of its adult population with at least one dose; just about 8% have been fully vaccinated. At this rate, it is impossible for the Centre to deliver on its stated goal of inoculating all Indian adults by the year end. Second, the signs are apparent everywhere of an uptick in cases . The U.S. — the only country with more cases than India — after a month of reporting less than 15,000 cases a day is now, like India, seeing over 40,000 cases a day. There has also been a rise there in daily deaths. A similar acceleration is also visible in the U.K. and both these countries have vaccinated a large fraction of their adults. India, while better off than in May, still averages about 800-1,000 deaths a day. So, it is far from being out of the woods even as economic activity appears to have near-normalised in many parts. The Centre continues to put the onus on States for planning but does not address a concern of inadequate Covaxin supplies. It has ordered at least eight crore doses since January but only 4.7 crore have been administered. The concerns over a third wave have been voiced but meaningful preparedness entails having enough vaccines. While daily vaccination rates will see spikes and dips, aggressive publicity measures and campaigns are necessary to boost vaccination, as was seen in end June. The Centre and States must work towards sprucing this up.

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