THD NewsDesk, New Delhi: An expert panel of 22-member highlighted that India’s current production capacity is insufficient to meet the target requirements for five million doses of vaccine to be administered daily. This caution by the Task Force was denied by the Union Health Ministry.
Last week India halted the export of Remdesivir drug with a sudden spike in Covid cases throughout the country. The Foreign Ministry of India which oversees the deals on the import and export of vaccine said that the Indian demand would dictate the level of exports of the anti-viral vaccine.
While India launched its vaccination campaign in countries like Africa and 60 more countries during a diplomatic move in February this year, the export was slowed down earlier this month with soaring cases in India. Challenging China’s dominance over Africa through this campaign, India decided to supply vaccines through the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX initiative. Now the vaccine crunch faced by India amid the rampantly rushing Covid-19 cases has put many countries in worry who were relying on the Indian vaccine.
With this sudden change in the availability of the drug, India is now seen as the major exporter with all hopes pinned to Sputnik V from Russia. In his statement to the TASS news agency, Indian Ambassador to Russia, Bala Venkatesh Varma said that the first batch of Sputnik V will reach India this month. He said, “What we heard from companies is that by (the end of) this month, the first shipment will take place and the product will be (launched) there in May and slowly increase.”
Many factors contributed to the current vaccine shortage with major contributors like delay in placing orders, shortage of raw material and even the underestimation of covid surge at home.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, had vowed to deliver at least 2 billion COVID-19 shots to low and middle-income countries, with nearly half of that by the end of 2021. But countries including Britain, Canada and Saudi Arabia rely on a single manufacturer, leading to a global production crisis.
Two sources said a further initial hurdle to SII’s supply ambitions was India’s hesitation in placing firm orders. India spent months discussing the final price per dose and inked an initial purchase order roughly two weeks after India’s drug regulator approved the AstraZeneca shot, according to the sources.
“That is why I chose not to pack more than 50 million doses because I knew if I packed more than that, I would have to store it in my house,” SII Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla told Reuters in January. He further said that he had spent ‘20 billion rupees ($272 million) on the 50 million doses that the company started stockpiling around October.’
SII has sought more than $400 million from the government to increase capacity, but no commitment has yet been made. Even after the cases surged in India, the government is only making ad-hoc purchases from SII instead of agreeing on a longer-term supply schedule, said one of the sources.
The health department and foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment on issues of funding, purchasing delays and other aspects of India’s vaccination rollout.
Several companies in India, such as Dr Reddy’s and Zydus Cadila, have been granted permission by the DCGI to manufacture and market Remdesivir for “restricted emergency use” on hospitalised Covid-19 patients. The drug is administered in the form of an injection.
With the severe shortage of beds available in hospitals and patients being treated in wheelchairs, the Government is still in denial.
Denying that there was any vaccine shortage, the Union health ministry on Tuesday said there were 16.7 million doses of vaccines available with Indian states. It was a problem of planning and not the availability of vaccines, the Centre said, blaming states.
“The vaccine shortage is due to poor logistics planning and coordination. If a software platform was built to forecast demand through pre-registration, then there should be no reason for a shortage. Yes, opening up the vaccination to all above 45 years may have some increase in demand but there has not been a population explosion overnight,” a community health specialist told Deccan Herald.
With the total caseload taking over 1.43 crore cases in India, the vaccination arithmetic is daunting. India reached the 10 crore vaccination mark in the initial 85 days, faster than China and the U.S. but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a target of 30 crores vaccinated individuals by July. After the export of 8 crore doses under the COVAX program, 41.6 crore doses are left, leaving India short of 18.4 crore doses of the 60 crore doses promised by July.