COVID-19 vaccine | Govt to prioritise second dose amid supply shortage, slowing daily vaccination numbers

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, at a meeting of the high-level Group of Ministers on COVID-19, requested the states to set aside 70 percent of the vaccines received through the Government of India channel for the administration of the second dose.

May 09, 2021 / 07:15 AM IST
Mahima Datla, MD of Biological E is confident that they will be able to come out of the gate running with 75-80 million doses per month “right from the start”. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Mahima Datla, MD of Biological E is confident that they will be able to come out of the gate running with 75-80 million doses per month “right from the start”. (Image Source: Shutterstock)


With the scarce vaccine supplies and the slowdown in daily vaccination numbers, both the Central and state governments are now scrambling to ensure that the people who have got their first dose receive the second one on priority.


The government is also considering expanding the interval between two doses for Serum Institute of India's Covishield vaccine which is nothing but the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. News18 reported that an expert panel is reviewing new evidence from international studies that suggest the vaccine’s efficacy is improved if the interval between the two doses is longer. The committee is likely to take a decision next week. The two doses of Covishield have to be taken at an interval of 4-8 weeks.


Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare, at a meeting of the high-level Group of Ministers (GoM) on COVID-19, requested the states to set aside 70 percent of the vaccines received through the Government of India channel for the administration of the second dose.


He appealed to all citizens to get the second dose which boosts immunity against COVID manifold.

Much needed second dose

The cumulative number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the country has crossed 16.73 crore on May 8. About 89 percent of the doses administered were Covishield, and the rest were Covaxin.

Only 3.4 crore people have completed the second dose.

Harsh Vardhan said that a total of 175 million doses have been delivered to the states, out of which 166.6 million doses have been consumed and 8.4 million doses are still available with the states.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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He further added that a total of 5.3 million doses are in the pipeline and will be supplied to the states soon.

Maharashtra, which has the country's largest number of COVID-19 active cases, said it will prioritise second dose vaccine pending for those of 45 years and above.

"About 4 lakh people of 45 years and above are waiting for their second dose. There is no supply of Covaxin and if we do not get the supply, we have to transfer vaccines allotted to 18-44 years to 45 years and above age group," Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said.

The Telangana government said it will only be offering COVID-19 vaccines for those in need of a second dose until May 12, cancelling appointments to others. Many others are following the suit.

The shortage of Bharat Biotech's Covaxin in many states is posing a problem for those who need to get a second jab. Covaxin has to be taken at an interval of 28 days.

Dropping daily numbers 

The daily vaccination numbers, which are supposed to gather momentum against the backdrop of the second COVID-19 wave, has come down - even as the government expanded COVID-19 vaccination to 18-44 years.

It was hovering well above the 3-million-per-day-mark in April, but has dropped to a little over 2 million per day now.

Serum Institute of India's current production capacity is 60-70 million doses; the company indicated that it may not hit the 100-million-dose capacity until July. Bharat Biotech is producing about 10 million doses.

Only 1,50,000 doses of Sputnik V have arrived from Russia, but it would take a few weeks for its roll-out.

Half of the doses produced will have to be reserved for the Central government. The states, private hospitals and corporates will have to compete with each other for the rest.

Too little, too late

Experts say that it is now too late to control the COVID-19 second wave through vaccination.

"Vaccination is no longer going to control the second wave but it will help with future waves," said Dr Shahid Jameel, Virologist and Director of Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University

"The time to vaccinate to control this wave was in January and February and we failed there. The focus now should be on treatment and containment to end this wave," Jameel added.
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: May 8, 2021 06:53 pm

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