NEW DELHI: Setting out its roadmap to vaccinate the around 95 crore 18-plus population, the Centre on Thursday said India should be able to access an estimated 217 crore anti-Covid shots between August and December.
In the meantime, 51.6 crore doses have been ordered to cater to the demand till July. This includes 35.6 crore doses (including 1 crore from GAVI’s Covax facility) procured by the Centre, and 16 crore directly contracted by states and private hospitals. Responding to concerns over the slump in vaccinations due to lack of supplies for the 18-44 age group and plateauing in the 45-plus category, the government said the pace would pick up and access to vaccines made in India would be ramped up even as foreign vaccines may also become available over the next few months.
Apart from the estimated production of Covishield and Covaxin which are currently in use, Russian Sputnik V — approved for emergency use and expected to be available in the market next week — the estimate of 216 crore doses is based on anticipated production indicated by companies of promising vaccine candidates currently under advanced stages of clinical trials.
“You may say it is optimistic. Yes, this is optimistic. Is there a risk that it may not happen. Possible, but preparations are there. These are very promising vaccines,” said Dr V K Paul, Niti Aayog member and head of the National Expert Group for Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC). The total number of doses available would further rise to around 300 crore by the end of the first quarter of 2022, Dr Paul said. He said the estimates were based on lab and trial results. Of the total order of 35.6 crore doses placed by the Centre so far, 7.6 crore have been received and utilised, whereas 86% of the 12 crore doses procured in phase-2 have been received and the rest will be in by the end of this month. Between May and July, another 16 crore doses will be supplied as part of the Centre’s phase 3 procurement. In May alone, around 7.3 crore doses have been available through the Centre, states and private hospitals.
The big push is expected between August and December, when Serum Institute of India is expected to manufacture around 75 crore doses, and 55 crore doses of Covaxin — now also being made in three public sector units apart from Bharat Biotech — are estimated to be available. Local manufacturing for Russia’s Sputnik V, currently being imported, will begin from July and 15.6 crore doses are expected to be available for local consumption in the indicated time period.
Apart from these, the government is looking at Biological E’s recombinant vaccine, being partnered with Baylor Medical College in the US, to provide 30 crore doses, besides vaccines from Cadila Healthcare, Gennova Pharma and Bharat Biotech’s nasal vaccine candidate. The projections also include Novavax, which SII will manufacture in India. The projections are “responsible” and have been indicated by the companies, Dr Paul said.
“We are proud to say that over 2 billion doses in a matter of five months will be made in India for people of India. So there should be no two ways about it that vaccines will be available for all as we move forward,” he added.
Emphasising the asymmetry in demand and supply of vaccines, Dr Paul said the new policy allowing states and private sector a role in procurement was a response to popular demand and insistence of states for a say. The distribution was thus divided between the Centre that kept 50% production for the priority 45-plus group and divvied up the rest between states and private hospitals. In a pandemic situation across the globe, prioritisation of vaccine recipients was necessary, he said.
The government is also in regular talks with foreign vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer, Moderna and J&J asking them to make their vaccines available in India, Dr Paul said. “We would like these companies to bring their vaccines to India, partner with Indian firms, do technology transfer and also manufacture them here. Under the new policy, the channel is open and we will support them,” he added.
The government has of late also relaxed the regulatory norms for granting approval to such foreign developed and manufactured vaccines which have already been approved by credible global regulators like USFDA and UK’s MHRA etc.