Modi govt’s plan to vaccinate all Indians by year-end is just a pipe dream

Going by their own projections, the production of vaccines by Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech will fall short, which has to be made good by imports that are unlikely to happen before October

COVID: India faces vaccine shortage amid surge in new cases
COVID: India faces vaccine shortage amid surge in new cases

K Raveendran

The Allahabad High Court had recently said that the state of affairs regarding treatment and management of COVID cases in Uttar Pradesh could only be considered ‘Ram Bharose’. The UP government quickly moved the Supreme Court against the observation, which asked high courts to desist from issuing ‘impractical orders’.

The SC only made a technical difference, not to the essence of whatever was meant by the high court judges. The objection was only about the issue of orders. The Supreme Court said the observations only need to be taken as ‘advise’ and not as order.

The import of what the high court judges said has been expressed by Justice DY Chandrachud, hearing petitions relating to the Centre’s vaccine policy, in a more sophisticated manner. ‘Let us pray to God that vaccination takes place for all’, he said. That the observation came while hearing an unrelated case does not make it any less appropriate.

A prayer is a prayer and the intensity of feeling is not limited by the etymology of the words used. Without God’s grace, nothing gets done; that’s what we all believe. Yet, all prayers are not the same. For instance, ‘Inshallah’ is the most widely used interjection in the Arab and Muslim world. In simple terms, it means ‘God willing’. Arabs also use the expression to mean that something will happen ‘only if God (is) willing’. Given the overall context of vaccination in India, a reading of the second type of Inshallah seems to be more in order, as uncertainties outweigh certainties by far.

In fact, this is a systemic issue with all the Modi government schemes. The vaccination story is no different. The government has announced that all adult Indians would be vaccinated by the end of the year. It is a different matter that all the promises made so far remain largely undelivered.

The vaccination plan sounds solid on paper. According to the projections made by the government, Pune’s Serum Institute will supply 95 crore doses between August and December 2021, followed by 65 crore doses by Bharat Biotech during the same period.

The Canadian Biological E will produce an additional 30 crore, Dr Reddy’s 15 crore plus about 10 crore from ZydusCadila and Gennova. That should be enough to cover the biggest segment of about 86.5 crore of adult Indians, as identified by the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry. An even more impressive target is to achieve 1 crore vaccinations daily.

Going by their own projected numbers, Serum Institute will produce 10 crore doses from June onwards, which means they can go up to 60

crore while Bharat Biotech promises to jack up output to 8 crore from August, which makes it roughly 40 crore by the end of the year. The two major counts already leave a huge shortfall, which has to be made good by imports.

The government has announced plans to hold talks with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson for the supply of their vaccines. But according to current indications, it will be at least October before large quantities can be accessed in terms of imports.

One of the biggest constraints in stepping up vaccine production is the availability of raw materials for the vaccine. US policy decisions to accord priority to supply raw materials to US manufacturers had affected supplies to India. The Biden administration later relented and agreed to supply specific raw materials meant for Covishield. But raw material shortage continues to dog the production plans.

We have seen how the launch of vaccination for the 18-plus age group on May 1 was a joke. According to data from the government’s CoWIN portal, only 4.2 million people in the age group of 18-44 were given the jab in the week from May 16 to May 22. This was even less in the case of the 45-plus group, which makes the pace of overall vaccination very slow. It is nowhere near the required progress if the year-end deadline has to come within the reasonable range of view.

(IPA Service)

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