Updated: June 16, 2021 10:47:22 pm
The Union Health Ministry on Wednesday said that the total number of Covid vaccine doses administered in the country has gone past 26.53 crore, including more than 4.81 crore doses administered to people in the 18-44 age group. Cumulatively, 4,72,06,953 people in the 18-44 age group have received the first dose and 9,68,098 have been given the second dose since the start of the third phase of the vaccination drive across the country.
Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have administered the first dose of the vaccine to more than 10 lakh beneficiaries each in the 18-44 age group.
The vaccination exercise as a tool to protect the most vulnerable population groups in the country from Covid-19 continues to be regularly reviewed and monitored at the highest level, the ministry stated.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said India needs quick and complete vaccination and not the BJP’s “brand of lies and rhyming slogans” to cover up the vaccine shortage caused by the government’s inaction. He also alleged that the government was trying to save the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, attempts that are facilitating the virus and costing people’s lives.
“India needs quick and complete vaccination- not BJP’s usual brand of lies and rhyming slogans to cover-up vaccine shortage caused by Modi Government’s inaction,” Gandhi said on Twitter. “GOI’s constant attempts to save PM’s fake image are facilitating the virus and costing people’s lives.”
Shortage of Covid vaccines
Shortage of vaccines continue to be reported from many parts. For instance, shortage of Covaxin across the country has triggered concern among those who are due for their second dose after receiving the first jab in the second week of May in most cities of Gujarat.
Earlier, the vaccine shortages forced the Tamil Nadu government to pause inoculation from June 2 to June 5. Many residents who visited the vaccination camps in their localities on Tuesday were sent back by the officials saying they don’t have stocks and asked them to come after June 6.
On June 3, when vaccination centres run by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and the state government had to remain shut due to vaccine shortage, lakhs of doses were still available with private hospitals not far away from the BMC headquarters.
Recently, several private hospitals across the country have said they have no clarity on procuring Covid-19 vaccines under the new policy announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and that it has led to the vaccination being put on hold at their centers.
The hospitals have sought a proper mechanism and a single-window system to be put in place for the procurement of vaccine doses. They also claimed that they had approached the vaccine manufacturers — Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India (SII) — and also state governments, but to no avail.
In a recent communication to the Union health ministry, Prakash Kumar Singh, Director, Government and Regulatory Affairs at SII, is learnt to have written, “As per your direction, we are not accepting any further orders/payment from any private hospital in the country. We await your further direction with regard to roadmap for future supplies to private hospitals.”
There is also an ongoing debate over the prices of vaccines in private hospitals. Bharat Biotech has said that the rate at which it was supplying Covaxin to the government was “not sustainable in the long run”, and a differential price in the private markets was justified to “offset parts of the costs”. In a detailed statement over the pricing of Covaxin, the Hyderabad-based manufacturer said that despite the differential pricing, the company was only realising a weighted price of “less than” Rs 250 per dose.
Earlier this month, PM Modi announced that the Centre will buy 75 per cent of doses from vaccine makers, including 25 per cent of the state quota, and give it for free to state governments. No state government, he said, will have to spend on vaccine procurement.
Centre’s vaccination roadmap
The Centre has laid down a roadmap according to which the country will procure 216 core vaccine doses by December this year, which, it said, would allow the entire adult population to be vaccinated.
The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) had earlier given the nod to foreign vaccines to be approved in India without clinical trials. But when it comes to vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna, several other countries are ahead of India in line, waiting for delivery of their confirmed orders.
“Whether it is Pfizer or Moderna, we have been coordinating at the central level… Both Pfizer and Moderna, most of the time, their order books are already full. It is depending on their surplus on how much they can provide to India. They will come back to Government of India and we will ensure that their doses can be supplied at state level,” Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry, said last month.
Novavax has said it would prioritise developing countries for the initial supplies of its Covid-19 vaccine. The Maryland-headquartered company said its vaccine had demonstrated 100 per cent protection in late-stage trials against moderate and severe disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 — a boost for the prospects of its Indian version, Covovax.
“It should be noted that, given that we’ve got a commitment of 1.1 billion doses with COVAX along with our partner Serum Institute (of India), a lot of our first doses are going to go into low- and middle-income countries, as they should,” CEO Stanley C Erck said in a conference call on Monday.
A big shot in the arm could be the vaccines that India is likely to get vaccines from the US — both directly as well as through COVAX. Initial estimates suggest India will get about 2 to 3 million vaccines in the first tranche.
Last week, the US had said that it will distribute vaccines to India as part of its “strategy for global vaccine sharing”, days after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met key officials in the administration in Washington DC.
While Biden made the announcement, Vice-President Kamala Harris had called up Modi about Washington’s plans to make vaccines available to other countries, including India. A US statement said the Biden-Harris administration will begin sharing the “first 25 million doses” to the countries as part of the framework for sharing at least 80 million vaccines globally by the end of June.
Digital divide hampering vaccine access in rural India
Apart from vaccine availability, access and digital divide remain crucial issues of concern in rural areas. Highlighting the digital divide in the country, the Supreme Court had asked the government how practical it is to make registration on Co-Win mandatory for everyone.
The Indian Express had reported that over a month after the Supreme Court was told that the Common Service Centres (CSCs) would be roped in to register the rural population for vaccination on the Co-Win platform, the 3 lakh CSCs account for less than 0.5 per cent of the total number of people who have registered so far.
According to records obtained by The Indian Express, of the 28.5 crore people who had registered for vaccination till June 12, only 14.25 lakh had registered through the CSCs.
Though the total number of registrations done by the CSCs has increased marginally month-on-month, it still highlights the gap between rural and urban India, and raises questions on vaccine equity.
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