Jayalakshmi Kannan (60) was in for a surprise on trying to get her third dose of Covishield at an Apollo clinic (Chennai). She had got a slot through the CoWIN app, but clinic staff were not aware, as they had apparently stopped administering Covid-19 vaccines.
Some people requiring a precautionary Covid-19 vaccine dose for travel or other reasons are running into this peculiar problem, where they are caught between dwindling vaccine stocks and an erratic CoWin.
“They told me that all Apollo hospitals and clinics in the city stopped administering Covid vaccines three months ago. In fact, they were quite surprised to know that people could still book vaccine slots in Apollo through CoWinIN. They said that they will fix this glitch immediately,” said Jayalakshmi. As of March 2nd, people could still book vaccination slots at this particular clinic on CoWIN.
A senior official of Apollo Hospitals Group, however, said they faced no stock-related issues. But, hospital representatives across the country and vaccine-makers agree that low demand for Covid-19 boosters has brought supplies to a trickle. This is despite India’s vaccine portfolio across different age groups – ranging from injectable Covaxin, Covishield, Corbevax, and Covovax to the nasal vaccine, iNCOVACC.
A Union Health Ministry official said vaccines were available in public and private hospitals, as reflected on CoWIN. However, the official admitted, the daily coverage has dipped, as have the cases. Last October, the Government had said, over 2 crore doses were available with States and Union Territories. No fresh updates have since been shared.
Low to no production
Bharat Biotech said it has over 20 crore doses of Covaxin in bulk form and about 5 crore doses in vials ready to use. Due to a lack of product demand, it stopped the production of Covaxin several months ago. ”Covaxin doses in vials are set to expire during early 2023, resulting in losses for the company,’‘ a spokesperson said.
On iNcovacc, it said, ”We will develop an antigen bank of 10 million doses, as a stockpile. Out capacity for iNcovacc is very large and can be scaled up as required.’‘ Biological E (makers of Corbevax) was not reachable for comment.
Serum Institute of India (SII), too, has stopped the production, an industry insider said. The company was not selling the vaccine in the private market and there was “virtually zero” demand globally, the person said. In late 2022, SII had about 2 crore doses of Covishield, with capacity to scale up. Covovax (also made by SII), too, will be produced, only on requirement, the person added.
“At present, there is no demand; we are administering close to 15-20 vaccines in a week across our four units in eastern India,” said Rupak Barua, Director and Group CEO, AMRI Hospitals. January saw some demand (up to 50 doses a day), on fear of a new strain. But thereafter, demand has dropped. The hospital has Covaxin (25,000 doses) and Covishield (5000 doses) but practically any takers.
“Our Covaxin stock is expiring in March so we tried to approach some Government hospitals and NGOs to give it free of cost but they also are sitting on stocks and are not willing to take it,” Barua added.
Peerless Hospital has stopped Covid-19 vaccines since early February. “We have no stock and fresh stock is not available. Manufacturers are waiting for single-dose vials likely in April. The nasal vaccine is a total flop.,” says Dr Sudipta Mitra, CEO with the hospital.
Mumbai’s Breach Candy, too, keeps only a small stock of Covishield “There is zero demand, unless there is a mandatory requirement, like travel,” says Chief Executive N Santhanam, echoing a prevailing sentiment.
(With inputs from Shobha Roy, Abhishek Law, PT Jyothi Datta)