With Excess Doses, India Must Allow All Adults to Get COVID Jab

Why are we denying vulnerable adults the COVID jab, when we are sitting on such huge amounts of spare doses?

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3 min read

Video Editor: Vivek Gupta
Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya

India’s COVID-19 crisis is graphically captured in the city of Pune, which is heroically – but also tragically – grappling with the deadly virus.

Currently, that is, in the third week of March 2021, Pune has almost 25,000 active COVID-19 cases, the highest for any city in the country. Nearly 4.50 lakh Pune-ites caught the virus through the previous 12 months. Its 10,000 deaths are next only to Mumbai and Delhi.

Now look at this irony – Pune is also the cradle of the Serum Institute of India (SII), the largest vaccine maker in the world, which is waging a heroic battle to obliterate this health menace. What an irony, right?

How to Render Pune COVID-Free?

So, if Pune could vaccinate just 5 million adults (out of a total of population of 7 million) quickly, it would vanquish COVID-19 – completely, totally, comprehensively. With that in mind, look at a few key numbers:

  1. SII could produce 60 million doses every month in Pune, but over half of these could be exported. Others like Bharat Biotech could be producing tens of millions of doses too, giving India – potentially – access to 100 million doses per month…but we are barely using 50 million doses within the country every month.
  2. Poor Pune only needs 10 million jabs (5 million adults into two shots per person) to become COVID free. In fact, Pune’s industries would be delighted to take on the challenge of vaccinating their workers at super speed. That would take care of the bulk of the adult population. The district administration would not have to take the strain.
  3. So, SII has to divert only a third of its exports in one month – one third, and just for one month – to rid its beloved Pune of the pandemic!
  4. And this whole exercise can be wrapped up in eight weeks flat, lock, stock, and barrel!

Besides Pune, COVID-19 Can Be Vanquished in 13 Other Crisis Districts

We are all terrified about an imminent second wave in India. But mercifully, this time, the infections are unusually concentrated.

Just 13 districts are reporting 200+ cases every day. Even if we take an average of 3-4 million adults per district, that’s a total vaccination of about 100 million doses to achieve “universal immunisation” within these hotspots to arrest the second wave.

So, What’s Holding Us Up?

There’s one huge wrinkle. Our policy makers have banned universal access to the vaccine. An adult cannot simply walk in and take the shot. He or she must be either 60 years plus or morbidly ill – which is a shame. When the country is using less than half its vaccinating capacity, it boggles the mind that we are restricting threatened populations from taking the jab. In fact, the tragedy is put in sharp relief when you juxtapose the following facts since India began vaccinating. I am using approximate, rounded-off numbers in the third week of March 2021:

  1. 35 million jabs have been administered in India; 60 million doses have been exported. Yes, I know you are shocked, but the truth is that we have exported many more vials than we have given to our own citizens, a terrible ratio of 60:35. Shouldn’t this ratio be inverted?
  2. Ever since we allowed vaccinations to begin at private health facilities from 1 March, we are barely hitting an average of about 1.5 million jabs every day – which is a quarter of our vaccination capacity of 6 million doses per day. So, three-fourths of our vaccinating capacity is lying idle.

Finally, to conclude, let’s ask starkly and simply: why are we denying vulnerable adults, irrespective of their age or morbidities, the jab, when we are sitting on such huge amounts of idle capacity and spare doses?

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