India is still struggling with the second deadly wave of COVID-19, with an average of 90,000 cases being reported daily.
India’s vaccination drive, which began on 16 January 2021, has successfully inoculated more than 90 million doses of two approved vaccines – Covidshield and Covaxin, developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University and Bharat Biotech, respectively.
Earlier the vaccination was limited to healthcare workers and frontline staff, but now it has been extended in stages to people above 60, those between 45 and 59 who have comorbidities.
Shortfall Of Vaccines Post Domestic Consumption
Many states in India have claimed that they have been facing a shortage of vaccines. Maharashtra, which has become a hub of more than half of India’s new infections, has been facing an acute shortage of vaccines.
The local government has informed that its current stock of 1.5 million doses will only last three days. The vaccination centres have been shut down in Mumbai, Sangli, Kolhapur and Satara.
The Health Minister of Maharashtra, Rajesh Tope, has raised concern regarding the shortage of vaccines and has told reporters that “if the vaccines don’t come in three days, we will be forced to stop the drive.”
Similarly, the Odisha government has complained about the shortage of vaccines and has urged the Centre to provide 15 to 20 lakh doses of Covidshield.
The state government of Jharkhand has also requested the Centre to provide 10 lakh doses of the vaccine due to the shortfall. Noida and Ghaziabad districts of Uttar Pradesh are also running out of vaccines, as claimed by the local governments.
Read More: According To Experts, The COVID-19 Vaccine Prevents The Illness From Becoming A Severe Case And Not The Infection Per Se
Is Vaccine Scarcity Real?
The Federal Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has termed all “allegations” of vaccine scarcity “utterly baseless.” He has said that there are more than 40 million doses of vaccines in stock or nearing delivery.
He has blamed the states for diverting the attention from their inadequate efforts in vaccination delivery and has claimed that most of these states have not even vaccinated their front-line workers in the first place.
But, this statement of the Health Minister is not entirely true.
Oommen C. Kurian, a researcher at Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank, has claimed that vaccine shortages have been triggered by a “mismatch between the claimed production capacity of Indian vaccine makers and the actual produced doses over the last four months or so.”
There are also claims that there have been cases of vaccine wastage and shortage in production funds.
The Health Ministry data shows that vaccine wastage is lowest in small states like Himachal Pradesh (1.4%), Uttarakhand (1.6%) and Tripura (2.2), while Telangana and Andhra Pradesh recorded the highest wastage of vaccine doses at 17.6% and 11.6%, respectively.
India’s “Vaccine Diplomacy”
Massive exports have also been cited as one of the reasons for vaccine scarcity.
India has exported 64 million doses of vaccines to 85 countries in the form of “gifts,” commercial agreements signed between the vaccine makers and the recipient nations, and under the Covax scheme, led by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
India is the powerhouse of manufacturing vaccines and makes 60% of the world’s vaccines and is also home to half a dozen significant manufacturers like Serum Institute of India, also the world’s biggest manufacturer.
Adar Poonawalla, the head of the Serum Institute of India, which makes Covidshield, had said in an interview on Indian television that “we are still short of being able to supply to every Indian.”
Serum has been providing 65-70 million doses of vaccine every month to India and has exported an equal amount of the same after producing them this year.
Whether India did the right thing to export such a humongous amount of vaccine doses to other nations is still an issue of debate.
The experts have pointed out that vaccine shortages have become a problem in some parts of India due to supply bottlenecks. They claimed that vaccine makers had oversold their capacities while taking orders from all over the world.
At the same time, a comparison of the government’s data between April 3-7 has suggested a virtual halt on Covid vaccine exports as India is prioritizing supply for its population.
The Union health minister Harsh Vardhan had made a statement in Parliament last month that vaccines are not being exported “at the expense of Indians.”
India has exported 6.45 crore vaccines, but it has also administered a total of over 9.4 crore shots at home. This highlights that India is focussing on providing more shots to its people rather than exports.
What Lies Ahead For India?
The steadily rising cases of COVID-19 and the issues related to “vaccine scarcity” are significant challenges to making India free from COVID-19.
There is an urgent need to plan and prioritize providing vaccinations to achieve the target of inoculating 400 million vaccine doses by July, as stated by the Ministry of Health and Family Affairs.
Thus, by analyzing all the intricate details about vaccine shortfall, one can conclude that the data available to the laymen suggests that vaccine shortage is an amalgamation of various factors as the present condition of COVID19 remains unpredictable.
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