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Vaccine supply will be tight for a while. Centre should help with imports

A bit of vaccine hesitancy that was apparent in the early stages may soon be a thing of the past. In just a few hours after vaccine registration opened for the 18-45 age group, around 12.3 million signed up. To put this in context, the same day only 2.1 million vaccine doses were administered and about 150 million in all since the exercise began mid-January. India is now looking at a surge in demand because the 18-45 age group is a large demographic and the second wave has added incentive.

The challenge in the days ahead will be that of supply. Over recent weeks, the daily administered doses have been falling and many centres often run out of stock. On April 5, 4.3 million doses were administered. On April 28, they had dropped by 50%. Additions to domestic manufacturing capacity are underway but these will take at least three months to come on stream. Therefore, while the window is open from May 1 for the 18-45 age group, there’s unlikely to be much activity there.

The Maharashtra government has already said that it may take a month before they can start vaccinating this demographic. Many of the other states have promised free vaccinations but there is no clarity on when there will be a full-fledged rollout. Limitations in the domestic supply can be supplemented by states through imports. There are however constraints here. States are in the frontline of dealing with the current surge in Covid-19 cases and not really equipped to deal with the additional burden of contracting with overseas manufacturers. Also, the global supply situation is tightening as the fear of virus variants is increasing the likelihood of countries resorting to booster shots.

The UK, for example, has purchased an additional 60 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine to be ready for the possibility that booster shots may be needed by autumn. Given this backdrop, one way to ease India’s supply constraint is for the Centre to undertake imports on behalf of states. There are advantages here. A larger order will provide the government with leverage in negotiations over price and quantity. Moreover, the Centre is better equipped than many of the smaller states to deal with international contracts. The priority is to ramp up supply using the most effective means possible. That’s the only way to rein in the human and economic cost of Covid-19.



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



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