Severe vaccine shortage likely in May as inoculation expands

Lokeshwarri SK Chennai | Updated on April 29, 2021

People wait outside a vaccination centre at Dharavi which has been closed because of shortage of the Covid-19 vaccine in Mumbai on Friday   -  Emmanual Yogini

But India will have enough Covid vaccines to inoculate all adults by December-end

As the vaccination for those above 18 years opens on May 1, the situation on the ground is likely to get quite chaotic. With the surge in cases, many in the 18 to 45 age bracket are likely to want to get vaccinated at the earliest.

But please do not rush to your nearest vaccination centre in May. There are many loose ends in the planning, which is likely to cause vaccine shortage all around. The Centre has said that the vaccination cost has to be borne by the States or by people by getting the shots at private medical facilities.

Few States are still to come on board, piqued at the higher vaccine procurement cost set for them. Private hospitals are also far from prepared, with negotiations over price and quantity with vaccine manufacturers at a very nascent stage.

The good news is that the supply will be ramped up eventually and there will be enough to vaccinate everyone by the end of 2021. However, speedy vaccination of the eligible population on the lines of the US or Israel is not possible for India, given our demographic profile and supply constraints.

Instead, India should try to contain the virus through other means such as mass testing and movement restriction.


Supply shortage in May

Of the existing suppliers, Serum Institute is expected to increase its output to 9 crore doses approximately by July. Bharat Biotech has promised to ramp up production in steps to an annual production of 70 crore doses in a few months. So, its monthly output can increase to at least 5 crore doses by July. Around 1 crore doses of Sputnik V vaccines will be shipped to India in May, but it may not be immediately available for distribution. Sputnik V production will commence in India only in July when it will be able to give up to 5 crore doses every month.

Even if we assume that US shares a large part of its Astra Zeneca vaccine exports with India, the total doses available in May and June will be only 10.9 crore and 14.9 crore, respectively.

Front-loading demand

However, in the second half of the year, vaccine availability will be much better, and the total of 141 crore doses is likely to be available from the above sources alone by December. If imports by private hospitals and production of Aurobindo Pharma, Cadilla are added, the supply could be even higher.

If we exclude those already vaccinated, approximately another 134.5 crore doses are required to vaccinate the population above 18 years. The supply of 141 crore is sufficient to meet this demand. But it is important to understand that the vaccination cannot be expedited. The Centre should ideally postpone the vaccination of those above 18 years by a couple of weeks to ensure that adequate vaccines are available at all public and private centres to meet the surge in demand.

Two, vaccination should be done only after registration on the app or website and no walk-in vaccinations should be allowed. This will allow vaccination centres to give a fixed number of appointments everyday, depending on the supply and help avoid crowding.

Three, the drive to vaccinate people fast must stop. Given the supply schedule, everyone cannot be vaccinated in the next two or three months. The vaccination programme is likely to be slow.

India must carry out widespread testing and isolation of infected people and impose movement restrictions in zones that are highly infected.

Published on April 28, 2021

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