The central government will distribute 120 million doses of coronavirus vaccines – 100 million shots of Covishield and 20 million of Covaxin – to all states and Union Territories for the month of July, according to advance information shared with them, people familiar with the matter said on Sunday.
These 120 million doses will make up for total Covid-19 vaccines being made available across the country through July – 75% of these will be given to states and Union Territories after being acquired by the Centre, and the remaining 25% will be acquired by private hospitals, as per the country’s new vaccine policy.
This development comes on the heels of India recorded its best week of vaccinations – an average of over 6 million doses has been administered every day in the country between June 21 and June 27 after the new phase of the government’s vaccine drive came into effect.
Experts, however, warned that the pace of daily vaccination may see a drop from what has been seen in the country the past week as 120 million doses spread across July translates to about 4 million doses a day.
In June, 106 million doses were administered across the country (an average of 3.9 million doses throughout the month) till Sunday morning. To be sure, nearly 42 million of these have been administered just this week.
The Union ministry of health and family welfare has been sharing the estimated number of vaccine doses available in a particular month with states before the start of the month as part of its advance visibility plan so that states and UTs can prepare and schedule vaccinations accordingly. “Providing information on the availability of vaccine doses in advance helps states and Union Territories plan their vaccination distribution, and in turn slot allocation, schedule in a more effective way,” a senior health ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
The Centre has devised a methodology to compute vaccine doses that need to be allotted to states, which includes pro-rata population of 18 years and above age group; the Covid-19 disease burden based on the number of active cases in each region; and progress of the vaccination drive there.
Two vaccines — Covishield and Covaxin — are currently part of the government’s vaccination programme. While Serum Institute of India locally manufactures the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine under the brand name Covishield, Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research co-developed Covaxin.
Another Covid-19 vaccine, Russia-made Sputnik V, developed by Gamaleya Institute, also received the national drugs regulator’s emergency use authorisation on April 13 and is now being administered at select private Covid-19 vaccination centres in the country under pilot mode.
India has so far administered 371.8 million doses to 265.4 million people since January 16, 2021, when the national Covid-19 vaccination drive was launched. A total of 209 million people have received one dose, while 56.4 million people have been fully vaccinated till Sunday morning, according to government data.
The government has, however, said it plans to scale up vaccinations.
“We are preparing to administer close to 10 million doses in a single day by August. The programme will get an increased vaccine supply in coming months,” said Dr NK Arora, chairman of the working group on Covid-19 vaccines.
However, an ambitious target of 10 million doses a day will depend almost entirely on supplies, as the country has shown it has the infrastructure and manpower to give close to that many doses a day (8.6 million doses were administered on June 21). To hit this target throughout August, the country would need more than 300 million doses in that month.
While Covishield supplies have been ramped up by the Serum Institute of India to produce 100 million doses a month, scaling up monthly Covaxin supplies may take longer, even though the Centre announced in the past that Covaxin production could go up to 100 million doses per month by September, an official said, asking not to be named.
“The current production capacity is 25 million doses per month and this is likely to be maintained till August-September this year, after which more supplies will happen,” one of the executives of Bharat Biotech told HT last week, on condition of anonymity, adding that it looked like by the end of this year, a target of 60-70 million doses was likely.
On June 8, the Centre placed orders for 440 million doses – 250 million doses of Covishield and 190 million of Covaxin – to be procured from August onwards, in addition to an advance order of 300 million doses placed with Hyderabad-based Biological E’s vaccine and will be delivered by December. The Biological E vaccine is currently in Phase 3 trials.
Experts stressed that based on current supply rates, covering the country’s entire eligible population may take longer than anticipated.
“The way our vaccination programme is going, be it insufficient vaccine supplies or other logistical issues, it is going to take a lot of time before the entire target population is covered. Even 8 million a day is not enough if you really want to cover the target population fast enough. Therefore, what is more, important is to implement other measures also to break the chain of transmission such as effective messaging regarding strict adherence to Covid appropriate behaviour; maintaining good hygiene, etc,” said Jugal Kishore, head, community medicine department, Safdarjung Hospital.
Clinicians stressed the need to take the vaccine to attain protection against viral disease.
“There are different variants of the virus in circulation; therefore, people should hasten to get the shot as it will provide protection against the disease,” said Dr GC Khilnani, former head, pulmonology department, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi.