India’s covid vaccination drive needs to accelerate sixfold to achieve full vaccination by the year-end as claimed by the government in the Supreme Court, a Mint analysis of monthly data shows.
The goal translates into 360 million doses a month from now on—as against 58 million given in May. To put this in perspective, 220 million doses have been administered since India started the covid vaccination process on 16 January.
The pace of vaccination has, however, dropped by 34% in May from April because of a supply crunch, and experts said achieving the full vaccination target even with the expected increase in supply of jabs later this year appears unrealistic.
At the end of April, India was on course to complete its vaccination process by 2023-end, but at the current monthly pace, the goalpost may have moved by a year. Ironically, the slowdown came in a month when India added the vast 18-44 age group to the eligibility list and liberalized procurement. To be sure, vaccine supply is expected to improve over the next few months.
The Centre’s claim is likely based on the expectation that it will be able to procure 2.16 billion doses between August and December, although manufacturers’ estimates put it at 1.65 billion, Mint reported earlier.
“Given the existing production capacity and the planned expansion of vaccine makers as submitted to the government, it is highly unlikely to reach this target by the year-end,” said Rijo M. John, an assistant professor at Rajagiri University, Kochi.
The average daily vaccination rate was 1.87 million doses in May, against 2.85 million in April, showed CoWIN data. The ramp-up in June, by government estimates, is only likely to be up to 4 million a day. India can achieve 70% vaccination by the year-end if it increases the speed four times. The analysis counts two doses per person. Fresh supplies and future vaccine approvals will speed up the process, but the analysis can help highlight key priority areas ahead. Chhattisgarh slowed the most (83%) in May, and if the new pace continues, the state could take until 2028 to vaccinate everyone. Telangana’s pace dropped 64%. Assam and Delhi recorded a slightly improved pace. Unless supplies improve, some states are staring at a four- to five-year timeline.
The slowdown is largely due to supply-side issues since mid-April. The Centre opened the doors for states and private players only in late April, but manufacturers are taking time to augment capacities at short notice.
Several states have paused vaccinations for the 18-44 age cohort, prioritizing second doses for those 45 years and older to overcome the supply challenges. Some states tried to procure vaccines directly from manufacturers but failed. Yet, on Friday, Union minister Prakash Javadekar reiterated that India could vaccinate everyone by the year-end.
Indranil Mukhopadhyay, a health economist at O.P. Jindal University, said: “The government woke up too late, despite several requests from top scientists. On the supply side, it needs to proactively work on compulsory licensing—a process in which other manufacturers are given the patented information—to boost production.”
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