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Govt affidavit to SC estimates a severe slash in vaccine doses from 216 crore to 135 crore for August-December 2021

As manufacturers struggle to scale up production, the pace of vaccination drive is at risk of losing momentum once again; hospitals admit supply has been erratic lately

July 05, 2021 / 06:01 PM IST

The news on the vaccination front is beginning to look edgy again.

The Centre, which was projecting availability of 216 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses from August to December, has tapered down its estimates to 135 crore doses, a 38 percent cut, according to an affidavit before the Supreme Court last week.

The latest affidavit was filed on June 26 before the Supreme Court, which is hearing a suo motu writ petition on the government's COVID-19 response.

The government said that the initial numbers were  "optimistic estimates".

"It's a dynamic situation, please understand the context in which the estimates were made," said VK Paul, Chairman, National Empowered Group on Vaccine, at a media briefing on July 2.

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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 described the supply situation as satisfactory.

The breakup of 135 crore doses include 50 crore Covishield, 40 crore Covaxin, 30 crore Biological E subunit vaccine, 5 crore Zydus Cadila vaccine, and 10 crore Sputnik V vaccines.

Biological E and Zydus Cadila vaccines are yet to get emergency use approvals from the DCGI (Drugs Controller General of India), which is the head of department of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization of the central government, responsible for approval of licences of specified categories of drugs.

Zydus Cadila, a three-dose vaccine, had submitted its Phase-3 data on July 5.

Moneycontrol learns that manufacturers are still struggling to scale up and the pace of the vaccination drive is at risk of losing momentum once again.

Supply situation

More than 36.97 crore (around 370 million) vaccine doses have been provided to states and Union Territories (UTs) so far, through all sources. Of this, the total consumption including wastages is 34.96 crore doses, as per data available at 8 am on July 5.

More than 2.01 crore balance and unutilized COVID-19 vaccine doses are still available with the states, UTs and private hospitals.

So far, 35.28 crore jabs have been administered under the nationwide vaccination drive. About 82 percent of these are first-time recipients.

"The supply of vaccines has been erratic of late," admitted Alok Roy, Chairman of Kolkata-based Medica Superspecialty Hospital, which is administering COVID-19 vaccines.

Under control

The government, however, claims that everything is under control.

"The new phase of universalization of COVID-19 vaccination began on June 21, 2021," the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said in a statement on July 5.

"The vaccination drive has been ramped up through availability of more vaccines, advance visibility of vaccine availability to states and UTs for enabling better planning by them, and streamlining the vaccine supply chain," the statement added.

As part of the nationwide vaccination drive, the Centre will provide the states and UTs COVID-19 vaccines free of cost.

In the new phase of the universalization of the COVID-19 vaccination drive, the Union government will procure, and supply 75 percent of the vaccines being produced by indigenous manufacturers, to states and UTs.

The private sector can purchase the vaccine directly from the manufacturers for the remaining 25 percent of capacity.

According to the government, the total population of the country aged 18 and above is approximately 93-94 crore. Administering two doses to these beneficiaries would require an estimated 186 to 188 crore vaccine

doses.

The government estimates 51.6 crore doses will be made available for the administration by July 31, leaving a requirement of approximately 135 crore vaccine jabs for complete vaccination for the eligible population.

It, however, adds that the figure of 186.6 crore does not include vaccines which are at various stages of development within the country and may become available in time.

The government is talking to Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson for procuring vaccines. If those deals fructify, the numbers to go up further.

Is the vaccination drive losing steam?

In May this year, the Indian government set an ambitious target of inoculating every citizen by December 2021. But the target – as of now - is a long way off. India has a population of 135 crore.

Experts believe that the government needs to vaccinate 1 crore people every day, from now on to achieve its stated target of covering the entire population!

The pace of vaccination in India picked up recently after the Centre changed the vaccination strategy. The country is now receiving more than 40 lakh vaccination doses per day.

India has so far reached a full vaccination rate of 4.5 percent; in contrast, the US has hit 47.8 percent full vaccination rate.

The country has an active caseload of 4,82,071 cases, as July 5.
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: Jul 5, 2021 06:01 pm

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