As India intensifies fight against Covid-19, will vaccine shortage complicate things?

Edited By: Gravitas desk WION
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Apr 14, 2021, 11:06 PM(IST)

Coronavirus in India Photograph:( PTI )

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There are several questions that are brewing in one's mind when it comes to India's vaccination drive. We'll try to answer some of these doubts

India's coronavirus numbers are going from bad to worse as daily new cases have crossed the 180,000-mark.

There has been a talk of new vaccines being introduced and there's a lot of confusion.

There are several questions that are brewing in one's mind when it comes to India's vaccination drive. 

We'll try to answer some of these doubts.

In pics | How Indian cities, states fighting coronavirus as concerns mount

In India, four vaccines could see rapid approval: Johnson & Johnson, Zydus Cadila, Serum Institute's Novavax and a nasal vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech.

Some foreign vaccines are also lined up, with the likes of Pfizer and Moderna.

But, most of these foreign companies have signed commercial contracts elsewhere and they must supply jabs to the US and European Union first.

Is India ready to roll out Pfizer and Moderna?

They are both mRNA vaccines, meaning they are stored in sub-zero temperatures.

But most facilities in India have a capacity between 2 and 8-degree Celsius.

This is enough for Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik, but not Moderna and Pfizer.

We don't have storage facilities so more vaccine approvals do not mean more doses.

Take for instance, Sputnik V. 

Earlier, we were told India has the capacity to produce 850 million doses, but now that number has been revised.

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Russian officials are looking at just 50 million doses by the end of summer.

And this isn't just a problem in India. Globally, the vaccine arithmetic is all over the place.

As many as 14 vaccines have been approved around the world and their projected output is 21 billion doses.

Out of this, 11.2 billion have already been purchased, mostly by the global North.

Just 3.56 billion are available for the COVAX initiative, a global vaccine alliance. 

The cost too has a massive range, from $2 to $44. 

More than half the doses have been purchased by around 20 per cent of the population.

Doctors say you need just two shots, but some countries have purchased enough doses for three or four shots.

As a result, vaccine makers are now swamped with orders.

Their backlogs could run into months, possibly years.

AstraZeneca is the top dog as more than three billion doses of the vaccine have been ordered so far.

Novavax is second on the list with just over 1.4 billion orders.

It is followed by Pfizer, Moderna, Sputnik and J&J.

But Johnson & Johnson has hit a roadblock as its vaccine is causing serious blood clots.

So the US and EU have paused the rollout, putting more pressure on the remaining jabs.

Even in India, the pharmacy of the world, neither Serum Institute nor Bharat Biotech is producing at full capacity, because they don't think it is profitable enough.

The government was first buying Covishield at 2.8 dollars, and now that price tag has been driven down to 2 dollars.

So the producers don't want to invest, they feel they have been dealt a bad hand.

Pharma companies want the government to infuse funds, but there is no clarity on whether this request will be granted.

If any country can beat this shortage, it is India.

Every year, India produces 8.3 billion doses of vaccines for different diseases, not just the coronavirus.

But if the need arises, this capacity can be tweaked.

But, there is a trade-off.

More Covid-19 vaccines mean lesser polio, measles vaccines, something that could hurt the country in the long run.

So the most prudent option appears to be the government's help.

Public funds must be pumped into vaccine production.

Take a look at the global vaccine rollout, India has given more than 111 million shots, the US, 192 million.

In absolute numbers, this is impressive because India started its vaccination drive a month later than US. 

But in a population of 1.3 billion, it's like a drop in the ocean.

The big takeaways

  • The world simply doesn't have enough doses.
  • The ones available have been scooped up by the rich states.
  • Vaccine makers are booking profits but they are dealing with huge backlogs.
  • And hysteria over side effects is trimming our already small basket of options.

So our one piece of advice is: Wear a mask, keep social distancing and remember that the best vaccine is the one you get first.

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