As India battles a second wave of Covid-19 averaging more than 90,000 cases daily since the beginning of April, a shortage of vaccines has added to the crisis. The country's inoculation plan hit a roadblock this week with at least six states complaining of a shortage of doses. The slowdown has also affected overseas deliveries.
Despite two vaccines in mass production and an ambitious nationwide immunisation program underway, New Delhi has been grappling with pointed questions from some states about its vaccination strategy and the supply of doses.
With cases rising at a record pace, some states have started raising red-flags over shortage of vaccine supplies.
The western state of Maharashtra, the pandemic’s current epicenter, issued a dire warning, saying supplies would run out in three days unless refilled.
The state is contributing to nearly 50 to 60 per cent of new cases forcing authorities to announce restrictions including a weekend lockdown and night curfew which will remain in force till 30 April.
The state has so far reported over 3.17 million of India’s total 12.9 million coronavirus cases with over 56,000 deaths.
Health minister Rajesh Tope said the state's stock of 1.57 million doses of Covaxin and Covishield will be exhausted in three days.
Health authorities have said they may be forced to halt vaccination for four to five days next week if the new stock does not come.
“Why is Maharashtra, which is leading the vaccination drive and has the highest number of active cases, not getting enough doses?" Tope told the media on Thursday.
India has administered over 90 million Covid-19 vaccine shots to people across the country as of Friday. At the same time, it had shipped over 60 million doses to 76 nations, delivered either under the World Health Organization-backed COVAX mechanism or as part of commercial deals.
According to reports, vaccination was halted in several parts of the state including Pune, Panvel and Satara, due to a shortage in vaccine supply. Some of the vaccinations centres that have already been brought to a grinding halt due to a shortage of jabs are in Navi Mumbai alone.
In some states like Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, however, current stocks are for less than two days while and in others like eastern Odisha, vaccine supplies are barely enough for four days.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh also said that the state was not in a position to ramp up inoculation as desired because of a limited supply of vaccines.
Supplies are low to states
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress party leader and MP Rahul Gandhi called for vaccinations to be opened up to "everyone who needs it" and an immediate halt on vaccine exports, predicting "catastrophic effects" to the economy if inoculations continued at the current pace.
The Congress leader also urged the government to fast-track other vaccines.
"Our vaccination programme has to move beyond an individual's picture on the vaccine certificate, towards guaranteeing maximum vaccination," Gandhi wrote, taking a swipe at Modi's photos on certificates handed out to those who received Covid jabs.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), which is the primary provider of India's vaccine requirements, is currently producing 2.1 million doses every day.
In an interview earlier this week to the media, SII’s CEO Adar Poonawalla said his company was working overtime to produce vaccines.
“The globe needs this vaccine. We are prioritizing the needs of India but we are still short of being able to supply to every Indian," Poonawalla said.
The SII, which is the world's largest vaccine maker by volume, had agreed to produce 1.1 billion doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine — known in India as Covishield — for delivery.
Recently, Brazil, Morocco and Saudi Arabia wrote to SII saying they were awaiting more supplies after receiving the first tranche a while back. Brazil said it had received just 4 million vaccines of the 20 million ordered while Saudi Arabia received 3 million of its requested 20 million doses. And Morocco received just 7 million of its 20 million shots.
India's current pace of inoculation is far from what's needed to meet the government's goal of vaccinating 300 million Indians, a quarter of the nation's population, by August.