Union health minister Harsh Vardhan holds a dose of Bharat Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, Covaxin at AIIMS Delhi. Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi.
New Delhi: India has exported 2.36 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines more than it has administered within the country, according to data submitted by junior health minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey in the Rajya Sabha on March 16.
India’s COVID-19 case load has been increasing steadily over the last few weeks, after crossing a peak around September last year and dipping to a low in January 2021. The bulk of new cases are being reported from districts in Maharashtra and Kerala.
Authorities around the country, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have pinned the blame on people refusing to follow COVID-safe protocols like wearing masks in the public and organising social events without proper precautions.
There have also been concerns about new variants spreading through the population, although they are subdued because India doesn’t have the requisite data to make any meaningful conclusions.
India commenced its national vaccination drive on January 16 with two vaccine candidates, the homegrown Covaxin, developed and manufactured by Bharat Biotech, and Covishield, manufactured by Serum Institute under an agreement with AstraZeneca Plc in Europe.
According to the Union health ministry website, India had administered 35.06 million doses of these vaccines as of March 17, 11:50 am. The largest number of doses administered in a single day was on March 15, “over three million”, according to Times of India.
In terms of total doses administered, the leading states are Rajasthan (3.35 million), Maharashtra (3.33 million), Uttar Pradesh (3.14 million), west Bengal (2.89 million) and Gujarat (2.81 million).
In the same period, the country has exported 5.84 crore doses to 70 countries, according to data Choubey shared.
A number of public personalities, including political leaders and businesspeople, have urged the government to make more vaccine doses available faster. The vaccination drive began its second, expanded phase on March 1, with doses becoming available to people over 45 with comorbidities and people over 50 with or without comorbidities, plus frontline and healthcare workers carried over from the first phase.
Gagandeep Kang, a professor at Christian Medical College, Vellore, suggested a staggered approach to distributing doses instead of the current linear one: with “greater private sector involvement” and with “all excess vaccines utilised on non-priority populations”, she told the newspaper.
Dileep Mavalankar, director of the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, has also suggested selling surplus doses at a higher price and using the additional funds to enhance the existing supply chain.
IndiaSpend reported on March 17 that India completed 7% of its target 60 days into the vaccination drive, up from 3% exactly a month ago. The overall target is 500 million people by July 2021, which means the 4% hike amounts to 20 million people.
The publication also reported that after the initial spate of crowding at designated vaccination centres, “the footfall appears to have stabilised”. There had been some reports of people having problems with the Co-wIN portal, on which they are required to register themselves, and which they worked around by walking into nearby local centres, which don’t require pre-registration.
But according to IndiaSpend, another issue is that people often don’t know where local centres are located as well as that in Delhi at least, there are a lot more private centres (136) than public ones (56). The vaccine doses are free at public centres and their prices are capped at Rs 250 per dose at private ones.
The drive has also been beset by complaints that government bodies – state and central – around the country aren’t treating post-vaccination medical reports equally, and that the Union health ministry isn’t sharing data about adverse events following immunisation (AEFIs).