The Hindu Explains | Film Certification Appellate Tribunal abolition, and COVID-19 vaccine shortage in several States

The Hindu Explains | Why are several States running low on vaccines as COVID-19 cases rise?

A medical worker holds a vial of the Covishield vaccine at Moti Lal Nehru Medical College in Allahabad on April 1, 2021.   | Photo Credit: AFP

The story so far: Several States have been complaining of a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines. Their stocks, they say, would suffice for barely three to four days. On the other hand, the Centre admits that while supplies are limited, there is enough for everyone. However, it could not permit universal adult vaccination, said the government.

How bad is the shortage?

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday that 13.5 crore doses of vaccines were available. Of these, around 10 crore had been administered till Saturday. The rest, about 3.5 crore, were either in the ‘pipeline’ or in stock. With India administering 30 lakh to 40 lakh doses every day, it suggests that the existing stockpile should be available for 10-13 days, though every State gets varying replenishments based on past usage, vulnerable population and requirement.


Covishield, which constitutes around 90% of the doses administered in India, is facing serious supply constraints. Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII), which produces Covishield, had earlier said that 10 crore doses of the vaccine have been supplied to the Centre since January. The original plan was to be able to step up production to 10 crore doses a month from May. However, a fire in one of its upcoming facilities in January, which the company initially said would not affect supply, has now reportedly upset these plans. Currently, the SII says it can supply around 6 crore doses a month, and Bharat Biotech, the maker of Covaxin, says it can supply 1 crore doses a month, according to a presentation made to the Prime Minister’s Office on April 8.

What are the States saying?

Cutting across party lines, several States have flagged shortages in the last few days. Andhra Pradesh said it had only 1.38 lakh Covaxin doses and 3.06 lakh Covishield doses as of April 6. On average, the State has been administering 1 lakh doses every day, with inoculations falling below 70,000 on some days.

In a note to the Centre on Friday, Odisha’s Chief Secretary said the State, while prepared to inoculate over 3 lakh people every day, had to shut down two-thirds of its vaccination centres because of “lack of supply” and that several districts were in a ‘stock-out’ situation and unable to continue the vaccination drive. Since March 31, Odisha had been vaccinating nearly 1.5 lakh to 2.5 lakh people every day, but it registered a dip starting April 6, when numbers plummeted to as low as 83,000 on April 7.

Also read | Number of new COVID-19 cases crosses 1.52 lakh for the first time on April 10

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said the State would need at least 40 lakh doses per week and as of Thursday afternoon, it had around 12 lakh doses left. For most of this week, the State has averaged between 3.5 lakh to over 4 lakh inoculations per day.

Several news reports, ranging from Uttar Pradesh to West Bengal, have spoken of people who signed up for their shots but were turned away on the scheduled date. One of the prominent vaccination centres in Mumbai, BKC Jumbo, shut its gates on Friday after running out of stocks and police had to be called in to disperse the crowd. In Kolkata and Patna as well, several people were turned away due to dwindling stocks.

Also read | Require around ₹3,000 crore to ramp up COVID-19 vaccine production: Adar Poonawalla

Data from the Ministry of Health suggest that while there are dips in vaccinations during the weekends and overall vaccines administered showed a daily increase earlier, beginning April 3, there has been a noticeable dip across States. From March 27 to April 3, the average daily inoculations zoomed from about 20 lakh a day to 40 lakh, reaching an all-time high on April 5 at 45 lakh. However, since then, this has gone down to about 30 lakh.

What is causing the deficit?

Starting April 1, the Centre permitted anyone above the age of 45 to get vaccinated. This came nearly a month after India started seeing a visible rise in daily infections and with universal acknowledgement from government and experts that the country was in the midst of a second wave. This may explain the growing number of takers for vaccines from late March. Though India in the initial vaccination phase prioritised healthcare and frontline workers and those above 60 years of age and above 45 with comorbidities, the roll-out was planned at a time when cases had plummeted. It seemed, and several government-backed epidemiological modelling exercises proffered mathematics to support this, that India had dodged a second wave, with COVID-19 expected to extinguish itself by February. But concerns remained, especially with new and more transmissible variants being reported internationally, and the government continued to emphasise the importance of safety measures. But electioneering, mass gatherings such as the ongoing Kumbh Mela, normalising of economic life, and an eschewing of safety etiquette may have led to a belligerent rise in infections.

Meanwhile, India has donated and exported nearly 6.45 crore vaccine doses so far, which is over two-thirds of what it has administered to its own population — over 9 crore doses. The second COVID-19 wave appears to have upset supply calculations.

When is the shortage expected to end?

Both SII and Bharat Biotech have asked the Centre for more funds to expand their facilities. The SII said it expects supply constraints till July. The PMO presentation also revealed that other vaccines — from Johnson & Johnson, Zydus Cadila, Novavax and a nasal spray-based vaccine from Bharat Biotech — would be available after July “at the earliest”. Russian jab Sputnik V, to be supplied by Dr. Reddy’s and four other manufacturers, would likely be available from May or June.

While the Centre now permits workplaces to coordinate vaccine administration, the prescribed age limits have not been changed. Thus, India, despite being among the top five countries in terms of daily vaccinations, is in the bottom half in terms of its ability to administer the two full doses or inoculating a substantial fraction of the population.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 1:58:52 PM |

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