India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive that is progressing at a modest pace of around 2 million doses per day, is unlikely to face any hurdles on account of vaccine shortage, official sources said.

The Health Ministry said it has so far distributed 7.54 crore doses of two vaccines approved for emergency use — Covishield of Serum Institute of India and Covaxin of Bharat Biotech — to States and Union Territories. Of these, only a little more than 4 crore shots have been used up and, hence, a sizeable stockpile of vaccines is lying with the States.

Additional vaccines ordered

Besides, the government has already ordered for additional supplies. On March 12, Hindustan Lifecare Ltd placed an order for 10 crore Covishield doses. The cost of the vaccine shots, to be purchased at ₹157.50 per dose, including GST, was to be borne by the Finance Ministry under the budgetary allocation made recently.

Besides, Bharat Biotech has also been asked to supply 45 lakh doses of Covaxin immediately. The Budget has earmarked ₹35,000 crore for Covid-19 vaccination.

Addressing the media, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on Wednesday made it clear that the government is taking stock of the vaccines available with the States on a daily basis and the supply of vaccines to other countries was not at the cost of national interest. He added that the vaccine shots are given to other countries because the firms have contractual obligations, for which they have received funds.

Availability to ease

The vaccine availability is expected to ease further when the Russian Sputnik V vaccine becomes available. Though Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, which has a tie-up with the Russian Direct Investment Fund, for marketing the Russian vaccine submitted an application for EUA in February, the Subject Expert Committee attached to the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation had sought more data from the firm. Dr Reddy’s said it would be submitting the same in early April.

While the issue of vaccine wastage was also flagged, a number of experts, including some State government representatives, said that the wastage is well under what is actually permitted. Even though the Covid-19 vaccine operational guidelines, issued by the Health Ministry, “allowed” for a wastage of 10 per cent, the national average is around 6.5 per cent. “Ideally there should be no wastage but that is not possible under field conditions,” said a State-level nodal officer, who did not want to be named.

Vaccine loss

An independent expert involved in monitoring vaccine usage also said 10 per cent vaccine loss is not much. In routine immunisation programmes, it is much higher. “In BCG vaccine, it is almost 33 per cent,” he added. A good part of the vaccine wastage is actually not the real wastage, but is due to accounting problems, he said. “Still nearly 6-7 per cent of vaccinations are carried out offline and they get entered later. But the vaccine shots used for these vaccinations remain “unaccounted” till the data is entered, he said.

Telangana, which was seen to have the highest vaccine wastage of 17.6 per cent, in fact, contested the Health Ministry’s observation on Thursday and said the actual wastage is around 1.2 per cent.

On Friday, States and Union Territories administered 18.16 lakh vaccine shots till 7 pm, taking the number of vaccinations to around 4.12 crore since January 16. In the 24 hours until Friday morning, close to 40,000 people tested Covid-positive, with Maharashtra alone accounting for 26,000 cases.