The Mystery of Missing Vaccines -Prabhat Patnaik

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published Published on Jun 7, 2021   modified Modified on Jun 7, 2021

Large-scale privatisation of the vaccination programme is happening, cutting of low-paying sections of the population. Yet, other discrepancies remain, calling for an audit by CAG.

India is facing an acute vaccine shortage. The impression that generally prevails is that this shortage is because while production capacity is slow to increase, there has been a sudden spurt in vaccine demand since vaccination is now open for the 18-44 years age group in addition to the original 45+ age group. This impression, however, is erroneous.

While more people no doubt are now eligible for vaccination, there has been a sharp and mystifying drop in the absolute number of vaccinations in May not just compared with the previous month but also compared with the country’s production capacity for vaccines. The excess demand for vaccines thus arises not just from the demand side, as generally presumed, but also from the supply side. This is utterly baffling; and the government has not provided comprehensive data on production, and stock-holding, to clear the mystery.

The production capacity of vaccines in the country in April was 8.5 crore doses per month, consisting of 6.5 crore Covishield and two crore Covaxin. While the plans for expansion of capacity of Covishield are not known, Bharat Biotech, which produces Covaxin, had announced that its production capacity in May would be increased to three crore doses, which means that total vaccine production capacity in May should have been at least 9.5 crore doses.

In April, there were nine crore doses of the vaccines that were administered, consisting of production and stock decumulation. By contrast, in May, vaccination has been much less. For most of May, the average doses per day has been 1.5 million (The Hindu), but after May 24, there has been an increase in the daily number of doses administered.

Even if we assume that the average daily doses reach three million for the last week of May, the total number of doses for the month comes to 57 million or 5.7 crore, which represents a drop of 3.3 crore compared with April; and what is more, the number of doses administered in May is at least 3.8 crore less than production capacity.

It is this phenomenon which is utterly mystifying. At a time when vaccination should be going up because of the intensity of the pandemic, why has the number of doses of vaccination dropped? The argument that in April there were stocks that could be decumulated while in May there were no such stocks available for decumulation, simply would not do, for the number of doses administered in May is even below production capacity.

In other words, even if zero stocks were available for decumulation in May, even then more vaccinations should have occurred (9.5 crore) than in April (9 crore). And even if Covaxin has not added to capacity as planned in May, and that production capacity remains at the same level as in April (8.5 crore), even then the number of doses administered in May (5.7 crore) is much less than this.

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