With registrations to be opened up from next week for vaccination of all those above 18 from May 1, uncertainty remains on whether the rollout will be smooth.
A senior government official, closely connected with the COVID management strategy, said the Centre’s decision was led by most States wanting the “flexibility” to domestically procure vaccines as well as import them. The National Expert Group on Vaccination discussed the pros and cons of whether State and private hospitals should be allowed to source vaccines independent of the Centre. “The discussions were detailed; there was no dissent,” this person told The Hindu.
To address the ongoing crisis the way out was a “massively parallel process of rollout” and the “surge has also brought to the front the need for speeding vaccination,” the official said.
However, it would be premature to expect a prompt rollout beginning May 1.
“In a month or two, supply will match demand nationally and globally. Flexibility of procurement and rollout allows India to act in parallel as distinct from a single-node (Centre-led) approach. The latter method had to be followed at earlier stages where every aspect, from vaccines, priorities, supply, logistics needed to be put in place and stress-tested,” the person said.
With 130 million doses of vaccine administered, India has still to cover even 10% of its population with at least one shot of the vaccine. Its immediate target was to inoculate 300 million by August. In spite of having approved three vaccines — Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V— suppliers have said they will not be able to ramp up supply before July.
Adar Poonawala of the Serum Institute of India said he had supplied 110 million doses and was in the process of supplying another 100 million of Covishield. Bharat Biotech’s Krishna Ella said he’d supplied 30 million doses and would supply 10 million more by April end. By July, with all their proposed manufacturing facilities running, they expected to be able to produce about 60-70 million doses per month.
However, at least 500-600 million beneficiaries are expected to sign up for vaccinations from May 1, which is the approximate number of Indians between 18 and 45 years old.
Giridhar Babu, epidemiologist and part of the Karnataka Covid Task Force said that it remained to be seen how the Centre, States and private hospitals would be able to follow through from May 1. “We are still to see a strategy or a document on how this rollout will be scheduled,” he told The Hindu.