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Monday, May 10, 2021

Behind shortage: vaccination surge in April and thinning buffer stocks

In April, India witnessed the highest demand for vaccines in a month with 90.50 million doses administered by 6.30 pm on Friday, more than the monthly production capacities of Covishield and Covaxin combined.

Written by Prabha Raghavan , Aanchal Magazine | New Delhi |
Updated: May 1, 2021 12:59:21 pm
Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech, Covishield, Covaxin, coronavirus cases in india, covid-19 cases in india, india news, indian expressA vaccination centre in Mumbai was shut for three days owing to a shortage in supply. (Express Photo by Pradip Das)

With a day to go for the vaccine door to be opened to those over 18, cracks have begun to appear in the government’s ongoing Covid-19 immunization programme covering the priority groups.

A sharp uptick in vaccination rates during the first three weeks of April — the last month before the coverage is to be widened — has meant that the cumulative dose of nearly 155 million doses administered so far is now just marginally short of the estimated 155-165 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines received by the Government from the two suppliers, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech.

In April, India witnessed the highest demand for vaccines in a month with 90.50 million doses administered by 6.30 pm on Friday, more than the monthly production capacities of Covishield and Covaxin combined.

India administered 50.60 million doses in March, 10.05 million in February and 3.71 million in January, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. After discounting for wastage, there is little buffer left, forcing the daily administered doses to slide below 2 million shots a day over the last few days from an average of around 2.5-3 million daily doses in the initial weeks of April.

As a result, there are reports of priority groups above 45 being turned away from hospitals despite pre-booked appointments over the last few days.

At the root of this problem, is the limited supply of vaccines that has been unable to keep up with the demand for jabs in the midst of the second wave of Covid-19 cases.

In response to arguments by states that they were experiencing shortages of vaccines, the Health Ministry on April 28 said that it had so far provided 159.60 million doses of vaccines to states and Union Territories free of cost. Of this, the total consumption, including wastage, is 148.98 million doses, it said.

More than 10 million doses had remained in stock across the country at the time, and the Centre plans to supply an additional 5.77 million by May 1.

Information in the public domain pegs the estimated number of Covid-19 vaccines doses supplied to the government so far to be at least 155-165 million doses — a little more than the 154.85 million doses administered so far. With little buffer to cushion the blow, people in the priority groups have begun to feel the strained supply.

In January, India had access to a stockpile of as many as 50 million doses of Covishield and 20 million doses of Covaxin, but vaccinations were slow due to hesitancy among healthcare workers.

While the Centre had announced an order of 16.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines on January 11, the total number of vaccines ordered had gone up to 41 million doses by February 12.

The country’s overall wastage rates of Covid-19 had hovered around 13.5 percent in early March, before coming down to around 6.5 percent in April. However, the wastage of vaccines within states also varies.

With a slower pickup in production, supply has not been able to match the rise in demand, resulting in a number of those in the priority groups being turned away in the last couple of days. In Mumbai, all 136 vaccination centres are now shut till May 2 after vaccine stocks depleted Thursday.

The Centre’s demand that private facilities return unused stock after April 30 has added to the dwindling supply of vaccines across the country.

Queries sent to the Health Ministry, SII and Bharat Biotech remained unanswered.

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