A one-day record means little. Supplies are still constrained. And bigger states have the most catching up to do

India’s record of having vaccinated nearly 86 lakh people on Monday would have raised hopes in many that the government’s target of fully vaccinating all adults by year end could well be realised. The math seems to suggest this. With about 28.5 crore shots already provided as of Tuesday morning, what remains to be provided is just under 160 crore over the next 193 days to cover all 93.9 crore adults in India. That’s an average of 82.6 lakh doses a day and after all it has now been proved that we can do that many in a day.

For those of such optimists who are cricket buffs, it may well have conjured up visions of Mahendra Singh Dhoni in his prime – taking the match ‘deep’, remaining unfazed by the asking rate climbing, knowing that he has it in him to do what it takes at the fag end of the innings. Seductive as this vision is, there is a problem with it. There is of course the issue of whether one great over where you score, say, 20 runs heralds a string of similar overs to come. In this case, that’s the question of whether a one-day record of 86 lakh signals similar levels in the days to come. But we’ll come to that in a bit.

The more crucial problem with this analogy is that it assumes that all that matters is getting to the target at the end of 50 overs. Unfortunately, that’s not true in this case. This is more like a match constantly threatened by rain where you can’t afford to fall too far behind the asking rate at any stage. The threatening rain here is the prospect of further waves of the pandemic. Experts agree that the less people we have vaccinated, the higher the chances of another wave and the worse the effects of it are likely to be.

Assume for a moment that we were to continue at about 86 lakh a day. By what time could we expect to vaccinate about 70% of the adult population? A back of the envelope calculation would show that it would take about 120 days or roughly four months. That means end October, very likely too late to prevent a third wave.

Even this is assuming the average can be maintained at Monday’s level. That unfortunately cannot be the case in the immediate future. Providing 86 lakh doses a day means having just under 26 crore doses available to be administered in a month. The government’s own figures show that this level of supplies will not be achieved in the near future.

Total supplies for June were put at about 12 crore by the government in a press release on May 31. Earlier reports had put the July number at 15 crore. That means it is most likely that an average of over 50 lakh per day will not be sustainable till July end. That of course would push the asking rate from August onwards over 90 lakh.

But the more serious problem is that the asking rate is different for different states. Uttar Pradesh, for instance, has provided 2.6 crore doses so far. It needs to provide another 26.8 crore over the remaining six months and a bit. The average it needs to achieve is 13.9 lakh a day over the rest of the year. The highest level it has achieved on any single day is under 7.3 lakh doses. So it will need to average almost double its peak rate, clearly not an easy ask.

You can do a similar calculation for other states and what emerges is a worrying fact. Maharashtra, the state with the second largest cohort of adults in India, also will need to average double its peak rate till the end of the year to meet the target. So will West Bengal, the state with the fourth largest population of adults. Tamil Nadu, which ranks fifth in terms of the adult population, will have to average one and a half times the best it has done on any single day. Bihar, which ranks third in terms of the 18-plus population has an apparently easier task because it needs to average only 1.3 times what it has done at its peak.

Thus, the most populous states will all need to maintain averages that are higher than their peaks. To return to the cricketing analogy, it is like telling Dhoni after he’s got 15 off an over, ‘great, now keep going at 30 runs an over for the rest and the match’s yours for the taking.’

You could disaggregate the picture further and look at how districts are doing within states. In UP, for instance, 10 of the 75 districts account for nearly a third of all vaccinations done so far. Similar patterns hold in most states. So you could well have a situation in which the heavy hitting towards the end has to be done by precisely those states and districts that have done poorly so far. The urban-rural and male-female skews could also prove serious handicaps as we progress, as will vaccine hesitancy in the villages in particular.

Incidentally, a government spokesperson cited a statistic to argue that rural areas are not underserved. A full 53% of all doses in May-June have gone to rural areas, he noted. The number actually confirms the skew. What it means is that 65% of the population (those in rural areas) got 53% of the shots while 35% (urban folks) got 47%. If that’s not a skew what is it?



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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