Covid Vaccines: Shortages and Wastages

Published : Jun 06, 2021 08:56 am | By: M D Sridharan

While the opposition parties blame the centre for the poor planning of the vaccination drive, several state governments have also to be blamed for the wastages which have lead to the shortage of the vaccine.

As the country has been experiencing a devastating second wave of COVID-19 over last two months, it has produced a catastrophic effect across the country. At a time when millions of Indian are fighting against the virus and battling out for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and medicines, several state governments are at loggerheads with the centre.

The supplies and shortage of vaccine has remained the bone of contention between the states and the centre. In fact the centre commissioned the world’s largest vaccination drive on January, 16, 2021 across the country. Initially healthcare workers, both in the government and private sectors including Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) workers, sanitation workers, and police & armed personnel were given jabs of either Covishield or Covaxin.  The centre planned to vaccinate around 3 crore people in the first phase and over 3,000 vaccination centres were readied accordingly.  CoWIN,  the online digital platform developed by the Ministry was used as a platform to register and maintain data based on gender, age and co-morbidity.

Then from April, 01, 21, the centre started the second phase of  the vaccination drive and opened it for people  who are above 45 years old, While India’s immunization drive earned Prime Minister Narendra Modi  accolades across the world, it hit a road block, as politics took centre stage. The states were up against the centre’s central procurement and accused Modi of not distributing the vaccines evenly across the states and showing discrimination in allotting vaccines between the BJP ruled states and the opposition ruled states.

Accusations and mud-slinging between the leaders and the political parties became everyday affair as both BJP and opposition parties vehemently tried to put the blame on the other for the vaccine shortages. As the shortages of vaccines forced the governments to halt the vaccination drive, the opposition blamed Modi government for the lack of planning. The opposition parties criticized the centre for its vaccine export commitments when an acute demand for vaccines existed within the country. The centre claimed that the export commitments were part of the original agreement between the manufacturers. Many experts also point out that more planning should have gone into sustaining the exports while catering to the domestic needs. It was very clear that more planning and streamlining activities should have been the part of the vaccination drive to sustain both the exports and domestic demand.

The fact remains that no advance purchase agreements were placed with manufacturers. By December 2020 although Serum Institute of India (SII) has already offered 10 crore shots at a discounted rate for domestic use, the government fell short in placing an advance purchase order.

Also as the fact that the manufacturers struggled to ramp up vaccine production and build up stock has further augmented the issues of shortage of vaccines to immunize the national population, As a result the centre could not achieve its target of immunizing the vulnerable population of 30 crores by July 2021. To vaccinate 30 crore people at least 65 crore doses were required.

Actually, the national figures reveal that until March India vaccinated a lesser number of its own people than overseas. According to statistics, while India vaccinated 39 lakh frontline workers in the first two weeks after January 16, by January end, 1.6 crore vaccines were exported. By April 1 when the drive was open for all above 45, India has exported 6.5 crore shots. As of May, with less than two months to its July 2021 deadline India has only reached 25 percent of its target. Due to the shortage in the vaccine, inoculation dropped from 35 lakh each day in the first week of April to 21 lakh in the last week of April. In May the daily average dropped further to 16 lakh doses being administered per day. The third phase of India's Covid-19 vaccination drive, in which all those above the age of 18 started in May amidst utter chaotic conditions. 

Wastage of Covid Vaccine

While the opposition parties have criticised and blamed the Modi government for the handling of the vaccination drive, wastages by the state governments have also contributed significantly for the shortages. The state governments continue to portray a grim picture that the situation is so bad that the centre government might need to prioritise the supplied of vaccines, otherwise they have to shut several of its vaccination centres soon.  But centre repeatedly claims that it is giving the required number of doses, but the states are mismanaging on their part and blaming the Centre.

While several states complained about the shortages of Covid vaccines and the centre is not heeding to their request to send more, the centre has come out with the data of shocking wastage of doses by the states. According to the data shared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) in response to a Right to Information (RTI) query,  

India has wasted 4.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine since the vaccine drive began to April 11. Eight states, including Kerala, West Bengal and Goa, reported zero wastage. Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, has the highest vaccine waste rate of 12% followed by Haryana at 9.74%, Punjab at 8.12%, Manipur at 7.8 % and Telangana at 7.5%.  Experts claim that 4.6 million doses are enough to inoculate half of Bengaluru.

Vaccine wastage can happen during transportation, storage and at vaccination centres. Covid vaccine wastage in India can be attributed to the fact that each vial contains 10 doses, and all have to be used immediately after the vial is opened. If enough people are not present at the vaccination centre, the excess doses in the vials get wasted. 

Tamil Nadu is the state with the highest vaccine wastage, followed by Assam, where the government said 7.7 per cent of the shots were wasted. The figure was 4.95 per cent for Bihar, 4.98 per cent for Punjab, and 5.72 per cent for Haryana. 

Amid war of words between the centre and the states a shameful episode has come to light in Rajasthan. In a vaccination centre in Kotkirana area of Pali district, it was found over 500 vials of Covid vaccines were found dumped in the waste bins of 35 Covid vaccination centres in the state. Astonishingly, a large number of these vials were half-filled.   Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had urged the Rajasthan health minister to probe reports of alleged wastage of Covid vaccine in the state on priority.

When the whole country is facing vaccine shortage, this act is highly condemnable.  Further, today at this hour of crisis responsibility is the key and the governments must keep politics away and ensure that not a single drop goes wasted. However, with proper planning and care, the wastage can be reduced. Kerala led by example in attaining “Zero Watage”  and has administered more than available doses by making use of the extra doses that are wasted in each vial. Due to the effective vaccination process, Kerala has also received appreciation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Of course, wastage result in depriving the citizens getting the crucial Covid jabs. Statistics reveal that after touching a peak of 4.2 million doses administered on a single day on April 2, the vaccination has plummeted to an average 1.8 million shots in May. As a whole, only 130 million people have been partially vaccinated since the country’s inoculation programme began on January 16, 2021. Moreover as of May, 26 per cent between 45 and 60 years, and 38 per cent people above the age of 60 years have received at least one jab thus far. Given the shortage, administering second doses to all those who have received the first one might be a challenge. The stake holders both the centre and the state government must realise that under the current  pace, production and supply capacities, it would take couple of three years to inoculate the entire population.. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appealed to the states that vaccine wastage numbers are still on a higher side which needs to be brought down.

Ramping up Vaccine Production

Finally, the centre has realised that it is time to ramp up production the vaccine production   significantly and focus more on the vaccination drive as planned. Firstly, the central government revised its vaccine policy and has asked the states to procure the vaccines as per its requirement directly from the manufacturers globally. In addition, the centre has asked the manufacturers of Covaxin and Covishield to enhance the production to meet the demand. Covaxin has enhanced production and was manufacturing 2 crore doses in April and expects to hit the 3.5 crore mark in June. Covishield expects to produce 10 crore shots a month by July.

The centre has also liberalised its vaccine policy and allowed the states to procure the vaccines as per its requirement directly from the manufacturers. Subsequently several state governments have placed global tender for the vaccines to fast track their vaccination programme. The government has also funded ?3,000 crore to Serum Institute of India (SII) and ?1,500 crore to Bharat Biotech, to scale up the production of Covishield and Covxin in the coming months. Further to boost the supply of vaccines in the market, the government has also proposed a 50/50 model by which half of the supply of Covaxin and Covishield will go directly to the central government, whereas the other half will be available in the open market to private hospitals and state governments. International players are also free to join the fray with any ‘ready to use’ vaccines. The imports of these vaccines will go into the non-central government route of procurement. Besides, the centre has approved Sputnik – V, Russia’s single-dose vaccine and the first consignment of 1,50,000 shots were received on 2nd May.

The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) on Friday granted the SII permission to manufacture Russian Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V in India. The SII has been granted approval to manufacture the vaccine for examination, test and analysis with certain conditions at its licensed facility in Hadapsar, Pune. SII has collaborated with Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Moscow in Russia to develop Sputnik V in India.  By the end of this year, India is likely to have about half a dozen vaccines. US biotechnology company Novovax, Gennova Biopharmaceuticals, Zydus Cadila and other pharma companies are expected to roll out their vaccines in India by the end of 2021.





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