Incentivise makers, listen to states on cutting pvt players’ share
After peaking at over 4.12 crore total doses of Covid-19 vaccines between June 19 and 25, India’s vaccination efforts have considerably slowed—at a projected 91 lakh between July 10 and 16, current expansion is less than half of what it was in July 3-9 (2.47 crore doses). States are pinning this to vaccine-supply shortage. The Delhi government has claimed that the national capital has run out of Covishield, and the Maharashtra health minister has talked of how the state is inoculating about 2-3 lakh people at present against the state’s capacity to administer 15 lakh doses a day.
Odisha and Madhya Pradesh have halted vaccination in many districts, claiming dwindling stocks. While Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia tweeted “The central government gives vaccines for a day or two, then we have to keep the vaccine centres closed for several days”, the Centre has blamed the states’ “poor planning”—that they did not space daily doses administered properly to last the month. Bear in mind, the stock earmarked for the states in July is 12 crore (the same as in June), to be distributed in proportion to their respective population.
Both the states and the Centre would do well to avoid a meaningless blame-apportioning and examine what is going wrong. The Centre, for instance, will need to consider seriously the demand that the quota for private players in vaccine delivery, of 25%, be brought down for some states or entirely left to the latter’s discretion. It appears private players in these states, for various reasons, are lagging in administration of the vaccines vis-a-vis the share earmarked for them.
The Centre will also need to find a way to incentivise vaccine manufacturers to supply 30 crore vaccine doses per month by August—against 12 crore at present—to meet its goal of one crore vaccines administered daily and the entire adult population covered by the end of the year. That will prove a challenging task, given the current pipeline is underwhelming; while the Centre had earlier claimed that 216 crore vaccine doses will be made available between August and December, in its affidavit to the Supreme Court late last month, this number was brought down to 135 crore doses (against a total need of 186-188 crore doses to administer a two-dose regime to the entire adult population in the country).
While Serum Institute of India, which makes Covishield, has just announced it will make 30 crore Sputnik V doses a year starting September, manufacturers have tended to be very optimistic in their projections. With the Indian Medical Association deeming a third Covid-19 wave in the country ‘inevitable’ while advising against travel and pilgrimage—the situation is already worrying in the North East, Kerala and Maharashtra—India will need to brace for another phase of restricted economic activity.
The emergence of variants—genetic tracking is only picking up now, and there is a long way to go before it meets the standards set by the UK etc—has complicated the picture drastically. Given the fact that vaccines continue to be our best bet against Covid-19—despite the fact that variants are knocking down vaccine efficacy—the need is to ensure that vaccination efforts don’t slow down even as vaccine-manufacturing is encouraged in every way imaginable.