To understand the issue of vaccine shortage, it is important to know about the vaccine supply chain in India.
Coronavirus vaccine: Even 10 days after the vaccination drive was opened up for people aged above 18 years, several states have not yet been able to begin the vaccination of people in the 18 – 44 age group, mainly due to lack of adequate doses. In Punjab, for example, the phase 1 and phase 2 of vaccination drive – in which healthcare workers, frontline workers and people above the age of 45 years are being inoculated – in being carried out, the third phase of vaccination has yet to begin. To understand this issue of vaccine shortage, it is important to know all about the vaccine supply chain in India.
Supply of vaccines to the states
When the phase 1 and phase 2 of inoculation drive were underway, the Centre was procuring all the vaccine doses from the manufacturers – Serum Institute of India in case of Covishield and Bharat Biotech for Covaxin – and providing it free of cost to the states. Now, in the third phase, these manufacturers are required to provide the Centre with half of the vaccine doses they manufacture, which would be supplied to the states free of cost for the inoculation healthcare workers, frontline workers and people above the age of 45.
On the other hand, the manufacturers would be free to sell their remaining doses directly to the states and private hospitals, and for this, the doses would be priced in accordance with the Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National Covid-19 Vaccination Strategy that came into effect with the beginning of this month. The states would be required to buy the vaccine shots meant for beneficiaries between the ages of 18 and 44. Meanwhile, private hospitals would also have to buy the doses from manufacturers.
Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National Covid-19 Vaccination Strategy explained
Under this strategy, there are two channels for the supply of vaccines. Of those, one involves the Government of India, while the other is called “Other than Government of India” channel. In the former, the Centre will procure 50% of the manufactured doses from the vaccine producers in India, while the remaining 50% of the doses can be supplied by manufacturers directly to states and private hospitals.
Impact of the policy on price of vaccine shots
For the beneficiaries of phase 1 and phase 2 of the vaccination drive, the jabs are free of cost at all government vaccination sites. Moreover, as announced by states, people aged between 18 years and 44 years would also be administered shots free of cost at government centres.
The Centre is procuring vaccines from both SII and Bharat Biotech at Rs 150 a dose, but the states have to pay Rs 300 for a dose of Covishield, and Rs 600 for a dose of Covaxin. Moreover, private hospitals have to pay an even higher rate of Rs 600 for a Covishield dose and Rs 1200 for a Covaxin dose. Not only that but private hospitals are no longer getting free doses from the Centre. Thus, in two of the private hospitals in Punjab, all eligible beneficiaries would now have to pay Rs 900 for a shot of Covishield and Rs 1,250 for a Covaxin dose.
Issue in Punjab
Punjab has placed an order of 30 lakh Covishield doses for the beneficiaries of the third phase of inoculation drive but the first consignment of vaccine doses from Pune-based SII has still not been delivered. Meanwhile, a few private hospitals, majorly Mohali-based Max Hospital and Fortis Hospital, have received their vaccination doses under their direct agreement with the manufacturers, and have therefore started the vaccination of beneficiaries aged between 18 and 44 years. Meanwhile, Rajasthan and Haryana, which are adjacent to Punjab, have already received their first consignments and have therefore started the inoculation of their 18+ beneficiaries free of cost.
Meanwhile, the vaccination of beneficiaries aged above 45 years has been carried out as usual, and between May 1 and 15, the Centre has committed to provide for the beneficiaries of phase 1 and phase 2, 6.15 lakh doses of vaccines to Punjab. As of May 7, 3.75 lakh doses have been provided to the state, according to the data released by the Centre.
Supply of vaccine to districts in Punjab
Centre provides Punjab with vaccines in batches of a few lakhs at a time, after which they are sent to districts on the basis of their population and the number of active cases they have. This leads to the districts receiving a few thousand doses at a time, and these jabs are exhausted in a couple of days.
The report said that Centre sends vaccines to Punjab either via the air route, in which case the doses are shipped to Chandigarh directly from SII, or via road from the Centre’s Karnal warehouse.
From Chandigarh, districts are required to collect their share of vaccines within a span of 24 hours using their vans. Moreover, there is barely in spare stock left in Chandigarh as the supply as well as the demand are mostly equal.