Mission Impossible: Can India Vaccinate All Adults By Year End?
As the target consistently misses the mark, lets see where each vaccine stands.
Six months since India began the ‘largest COVID-19 vaccination drive in the world,’ its pace remains sluggish, even as the leadership has claimed that it will vaccinate every single eligible adult by end of 2021.
The target has consistently missed the mark, and the government itself has shifted the goalpost on how many vaccines will be available month-on-month.
After the mind-boggling claim of having nearly 2 billion vaccines at its disposable by year end, an affidavit the government submitted on 26 June to the Supreme Court brought down the numbers considerably to 1.3 billion doses by year end.
As of July 15, 39.5 core vaccine doses have been administered in India. It needs to administer a total of 1.8 billion doses to fully vaccinate its entire adult population of 94 crore.
Reaching there remains a herculean task.
Vaccines: Where are they now?
Even as the govt has revised its target, it is still heavily banking on its two current vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin, manufactured by Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, to come out swinging.
But can they deliver?
According to the affidavit submitted to the Supreme court on June 26, the govt hopes to get 50 crore vaccines from Serum Institute of India between August to December, that’s approximately 10 crore vaccines a month.
Serum has said that it will be in a position to deliver 10 crore vaccines a month from August, an achievable target if SII keeps to its pace of production. SII seems best placed to deliver of the lot of vaccine manufacturers India is depending upon.
According to the same affidavit, govt has said it will get 40 crore vaccine doses of Covaxin in five months from Bharat Biotech, that’s approximately 8 crore vaccines a month.
Here’s where things get a bit complicated. The govt’s golden child has consistently underperformed in the last few months. Bharat Biotech is yet to fulfil its earlier orders placed by GOI in April and May. Add to that, despite claims by the government, on June 23, an executive at Bharat Biotech was quoted as saying they will continue to produce 2.5 crore doses of Covaxin per month till at least August-September this year, but hoped to ramp up to 6-7 crore doses by the year end.
So the target of 40 crore by year end will be missed.
The ramp up with depend upon production kickstarting in their Ankleshwar, Gujarat, and Bengaluru, Karnataka plants.
Further, its tie up with three pharma PSUs - Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation Ltd, Indian Immunologicals Ltd and Bharat Immunologicals & Biologicals Ltd is unlikely to start before year end.
According to the affidavit, India will have 10 crore Sputnik V vaccines by year end. This will be a mix of the 3.6 crore doses Dr Reddy’s Laboratories are importing from Russian Direct Investment Fund and the host of local manufacturing deals RDIF has entered in India with 5 companies.
Add to this, just last week RDIF also announced a partnership with SII to produce 30 crore doses of its vaccine in a year. The production for it is set to begin in September. According to the press note, SII has got the cell and vector samples as part of the technological transfer.
But here’s the reality check. According to a Reuters article, Dr Reddy’s has delayed the commercial launch of the imported Sputnik V vaccine on account of the fact that it hasn’t yet received adequate second doses. Sputnik vaccine is unique in that both doses has different components. The earlier launch date was mid-June. It’s also not clear how many of the doses being manufactured here in India are meant for India.
The government of India placed an advance order of 30 crore doses with Biological E for its recombinant protein sub unit COVID vaccine Corbevax. These doses will be manufactured and stockpiled by Biological E between August and dec 2021, even as it still in phase 2 and 3 trials.
On July 1, Zydus Cadila applied for emergency use authorisation from its plasmid DNA vaccine. Zydus Cadila is believed to have completed its trials and it is also the first vaccine in India to be tested on 12-18 year olds. In an interview with TOI, Zydus Cadila chairperson Dr Shravil Patel said they have the production capacity of 1 crore doses a month and production will take off in July, with an aim of ramping up to 2.5 crore doses in 6 months.
While several reports have claimed they are likely to get EUA any time soon, it hasn't come through yet.
Given the uncertainty regarding several of the vaccines and their realistic ability to come through, it's unlikely that the target of 135 crore doses will be met by end 2021.
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