Vaccine supply may trail demand for months. States must learn from Centre’s missteps

The gaping deficit between demand and supply after the new “liberalised” vaccination policy kicked off on May 1 appears unresolvable for now. Centre’s affidavit to Supreme Court suggests Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech can manufacture 8.5 crore doses a month, translating into a maximum daily capacity to administer roughly 28 lakh doses. On Monday, 24.3 lakh jabs were dispensed, signifying little scope for ramping up vaccination without more supplies.

By July, India’s monthly vaccine production may exceed 13 crore doses, offering potentially 40 lakh jabs daily. But this is of little consolation: Relying on now exhausted stockpiles India was inoculating at this pace in early April itself. Centre opened vaccination for the 18-44 age group “to respect the wishes of various state governments”. It’s a reminder of how information is a crucial policy good for society, because states had expressed such wishes with poor data on actual vaccine production. With only 10 crore persons in the 45-plus category having received their first doses, and even fewer 2.3 crore their second doses, immediate prospects are not good for the 59 crore population in the 18-44 group.

Had Centre backed its original plan to deliver 60 crore jabs by July end for priority groups with bulk upfront payments like other countries, the story could have been different. Signalling course correction, it has paid Rs 1,700 crore for 11 crore Covishield doses and Rs 772 crore for 5 crore Covaxin doses to be delivered in May, June and July. There are also 2 crore doses available in May for state governments to procure directly from vaccine makers. With Centre’s supply earmarked for priority groups returning for second doses, the under-45 group has some wait ahead. This must be communicated to them properly.

State governments must replicate Centre’s belated tack of advance payments for bulk orders to incentivise vaccine-makers to scale up rapidly. Grudging advance payments for vaccines is futile: The forbidding costs of lockdowns are reason enough to shed penny-wise-pound-foolish approaches. BMC and Odisha’s global tenders to import vaccines given the domestic shortage hold promise. The US, for instance, is already reporting supply gluts. Its Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, Novavax and AstraZeneca shots can help India. Meanwhile, China’s Sinopharm vaccine, approved by WHO unlike Covaxin, is gaining mileage. With India struggling to vaccinate rapidly, it must improve masking and social distancing. Let’s at least realise this low-cost safety.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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