Vaccines for all by year-end looks like a hopeless dream


The government’s target to fully vaccinate every adult by the year-end appears to be a hopeless dream, given inadequate shots and limited vaccination capacity.

Last week, the Centre reiterated its target to fully inoculate India’s eligible population of around 1.08 billion by December, a target that will require the administration of around 10 million doses a day.

However, Balaji S. Reddie, assistant professor of operations at Pune’s Balaji Institute of Modern Management, calculates that even under the best-case scenario, the first-dose target will not be met before late January.

“The total people left to be vaccinated as of 7 July 2021 with dose one was 785 million, and with both the doses, it is 1.01 billion. If the rate of vaccination is the same as they are now, the dates of completion for dose one will be 26 January 2022, and dose two will be 30 August 2022,” Reddie said.

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If the vaccination rate drops, the campaign will be completed by 2023 or even 2024. Fully vaccinating the entire population will require vaccinating 15-20 million people every day, he said.

In the first 156 days of vaccination to 20 June, when the central vaccine procurement was reinstated, India administered 230 million first doses at 1.46 million doses per day and 50.1 million second doses at 330,000 doses per day. Since then, till 7 July, 67 million first doses were administered at 3.9 million doses a day, and about 18 million second doses at 1.04 million doses per day. The pace temporarily picked up after the policy change but then fell back to a slower pace.

Until there is more supply, it is not possible to do 300 million vaccinations a month, said Dr. Gagandeep Kang, vice-chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global non-profit, and professor at the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, Tamil Nadu. “It seems supply right now is between one-third and half of that,” she said. Kang added that the vaccination programme could still deliver, especially if it is further decentralized to the district level, accompanied by government support for NGO partners.

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Arvind Panagariya, an economics professor at Columbia University and former vice-chairman of government think tank NITI Aayog, said India’s current vaccination rate is simply not good enough. “We need to up our game to achieve a daily rate of at least 5 to 6 million jabs,” Panagariya tweeted on Sunday.

However, Lav Agarwal, joint secretary at the Union health ministry, had a different take. “We need to appreciate the challenge of how vaccine supplies and production have been enhanced by regular handholding with manufacturers in the past six months. With these efforts, we have been able to come to a level from 200,000 to 4-5 million vaccinations per day. We followed up with all vaccine manufacturers to ensure production gets increased,” Agarwal said.

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“The target is not 10 million alone. The target is also to see if we can work with the manufacturers to increase production. Also, we are able to cover as early as possible the required population of this country,” Agarwal said.

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