Covid Vaccines: Centre Says 100 Crore Indians Will Be Vaccinated By 2021-End. Really?

Vials of vaccine, produced by AstraZeneca Plc, at a Covid-19 vaccination centre. (Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg)

Covid Vaccines: Centre Says 100 Crore Indians Will Be Vaccinated By 2021-End. Really?

As the miserable month of May was coming to an end, Prakash Javadekar, union minister for information and broadcasting, made a somewhat astonishing claim — that 108 crore Indians will be vaccinated by December-end.

Now, May was miserable as the second wave of Covid-19 infections played out in full intensity even as India's vaccination rate dropped.

Javadekar's claim was reiterated by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in the Supreme Court — "that the union of India aims to vaccinate approximately 100 crore persons by the end of December 2021". He promised to share a detailed road map later.

100 crore Indians vaccinated by Dec. 31 — can the government deliver on its promise?

That depends on how you read it.

First, based on eligibility criteria, approximately 90 crore Indians are to be vaccinated, that's 180 crore doses required. So the 108 crore figure is a bit confusing. But there's no reason to fuss over more vaccinations, so let's move on.

Next, it's unclear whether the minister and the government's lawyer are promising to administer 100 crore doses by the year-end OR vaccinate 100 crore Indians i.e.: 200 crore doses.

Let's assume the first for a moment.

Can India Administer 100 Crore Doses By Year End?

Most likely, yes.

This week the central government placed orders for 44 crore doses, to be supplied by Serum Institute of India Ltd. (25 crore) and Bharat Biotech Ltd. (19 crore) between now and December-end.

Is there enough supply? A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests there will be. This is based on government data presented to the Supreme Court.

Serum Institute's current Covishield capacity is 5 crore doses per month, slated to increase to 6.5 crore by July.

Bharat Biotech's current Covaxin capacity is just over 1 crore and will increase to 5.5 crore doses/month by July.

As the manufacturers have explained — it takes two months for the product to make it to market.

That indicates aggregate supply will be approximately 6 crore doses per month up to October and then double in October-December.

Here's how it adds up

24 crore doses already administered

+ 6 crore doses each in June, July, August, September

+ 12 crore each in October, November, December

= 84 crore doses.

Then there's Russia's Sputnik V vaccine—about 15.6 crore shots expected between July and December.

That's 100 crore doses!

What About Fully Vaccinating 100 Crore Indians?

Here's where it gets tricky.

With some luck India will easily exceed 100 crore doses in supply this year. But by how much is difficult to speculate.

The government has already placed an order for 30 crore doses of Hyderabad-based Biological-E Ltd.'s vaccine. But, the vaccine candidate is undergoing phase-3 clinical trials and is yet to receive emergency use approval by the centre.

There's also Zydus Cadila Ltd.'s vaccine candidate — currently undergoing clinical trials. Cadila says it intends to ramp up annual capacity to 24 crore doses.

Even if one of these succeed, India could get its hands on a sizeable number (up to maximum 44 crore doses), depending on when approvals come in.

Also, the U.S. government will send some vaccine doses to India, among other countries.

Pfizer and other foreign vaccine producers are in talks to exports doses to India, pending emergency use authorisation and indemnity agreements.

Yet, reaching 200 crore doses looks very tough.

The government has claimed another 36 crore doses could become available on account of Novavax manufactured by Serum Institute, a nasal vaccine by Bharat Biotech and Gennova Biopharmaceuticals' mRNA-based vaccine. But, these three are also pending regulatory approval.

The Supreme Court itself has expressed doubts over the government's supply forecast. Hence, it has sought "complete data" of the government's purchase history and "an outline for how and when the central government seeks to vaccinate the remaining population".

The government has till June 16 to present that.

Note: Several government officials have quoted varying supply estimates. BloombergQuint has relied on government data provided by CoWin, PIB and in its affidavit to the Supreme Court.

Also read: Modi’s Vaccine Policy Comes Half Undone – And That’s A Good Thing

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