India will have about 150 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines during August, a top health official said on Tuesday, indicating a quantum greater than in July but still not enough for the daily jabs needed to fully vaccinate the adult population by the year-end.
The anticipated August supply will be around 30 million more than the 120 million doses that the Centre had said would be available during July as part of the 517 million doses to be supplied between January 2021 and July 31, 2021.
We have the visibility of about 15 crore (150 million) doses or so (for August),” said Vinod Paul, chair of the national expert group guiding Covid-19 vaccination policy and member health at Niti Aayog, the Centre’s apex technical think tank.
The current pace of India’s vaccination campaign is almost entirely dictated by the availability of supplies, health officials and experts have said. While health officials have said India has the capacity to administer 8 to 10 million doses daily, the current supplies are inadequate to support that pace.
The anticipated 150 million doses in August would support an average five million doses daily. This is significantly lower than the 9.4 million daily doses India would need to fully vaccinate its estimated 943 million people by December-end.
The health ministry had told Parliament last week that there was “no fixed timeline” for the completion of the Covid-19 vaccination drive, but “it is expected that beneficiaries 18 years or older will be vaccinated by December 2021”.
“We produce and we inject,” Paul said on Tuesday. “When we produce, part of the vaccine goes through testing at our central labs and the batches are released. We are visualising to the tune of about 15 crore…. Whatever is being produced is being used.”
Under these circumstances marked by limited supplies but potentially large demand, experts say, vaccine shortages will be experienced at any site where the demand from the population rises. Such shortages could continue until the supplies increase.
The Union health ministry said on Tuesday that the Centre was on track to supply 517 million doses to states or private hospitals up to July 2021 as planned.
The Centre has supplied 457 million doses since January 2021 and an additional 60.3 million doses are expected to be supplied by July 31, the ministry said.
The availability of doses until a particular month “does not mean that every dose supplied till that month is going to be consumed or administered” within that month, it added. “There would be supplies in the pipeline that should be available for the next few days until the next supplies of doses materialise to keep the vaccination going.”
India had until Tuesday administered nearly 444 million doses. Over 96 million people (or about 10.1 per cent of the eligible population) have received both doses required for full protection.
Some health experts have criticised what they view as opacity about monthly vaccine production figures. “We’re still in the dark about production capacities,” said R. Ramakumar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, who has challenged certain aspects of the vaccination policy in the Supreme Court.
The health ministry had said last month that it expected over 1.35 billion doses to be available during the August-December 2021 period, which would be sufficient to fully vaccinate the eligible population.