The Narendra Modi government seems unsure of how many Covid-19 vaccines are being produced in the country.
In a single day in the Parliament, the government had three estimates for domestic vaccine production. On July 20, the health ministry first stated that Bharat Biotech, the company that makes Covaxin, is producing 1 crore doses a month, and will be increased to 100 million in the coming months.
In the very next question about the current production capacity of vaccines manufactured in India, the ministry of health said: “The current average monthly capacity of production of Covishield by Serum Institute of India is 11 crore doses and of Covaxin by Bharat Biotech International Limited is 2.5 crore doses.”
In a third question, the health ministry said the Serum Institute of India was producing an estimated 13 crore doses a month, and Bharat Biotech about 1.75 crore doses a month.
Before these estimates in Parliament, the Indian government had told the supreme court in May that Bharat Biotech was producing 1 crore doses of Covaxin a month.
These data come at a time when a difference of a few million doses per month can make all the difference to India’s vaccination targets.
Targets versus production
Since January, the Modi government has announced several vaccination targets. In its latest affidavit to the Supreme Court on June 26, the government said it would administer a cumulative 51.6 crore doses till the end of July. Till July 23, it had administered a little over 41.8 crore doses.
To meet this gap of 10 crore doses in the next eight days, the government would need to give out 1.25 crore doses every day without a break. That is going to be nearly impossible, given that even on a particularly fruitful day, India has administered roughly 50 lakh doses.
On July 22, it administered 54 lakh doses, and on July 21, a little under 24 lakh, according to the government’s Cowin vaccine dashboard.
“The fact is that the supply of vaccines remains considerably lower than the demand for vaccines,” R Ramakumar, professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, wrote in The Indian Express newspaper. “Firstly, India’s vaccine production capacity is not rising as is regularly claimed by the government of India,” he added. “Secondly, the government’s projections for vaccine availability are consistently inflated and unrealistic.”
The delay in vaccine supplies is partly responsible for this mismatch.
Covaxin supply delay
Not only is there a mismatch in what Bharat Biotech estimates as its projected production capacity and the government’s data, but the company has also missed its deadline to supply vaccines in the country.
Covaxin, which Bharat Biotech’s co-developed with the government’s Indian Council for Medical Research, was to supply 20 million doses under an order placed in March. According to the government’s affidavit in the supreme court on June 26, the company was still to supply 1.8 million doses. If the company’s production capacity was indeed 10 million a month, this should not have been a huge target to achieve.
Added to this, the government placed an order for an additional 5 crore doses for its homegrown vaccine on May 5, and Bharat Biotech was expected to deliver these in the months between May and July. Till June 26, Covaxin supplies were yet to begin.
The government has further ordered 19 crore doses of the coronavirus vaccine on June 4 to be supplied between August and December.
Including an order of 27 crore vaccines that the government hopes to place in the near future, Bharat Biotech is estimated to supply a total of 40 crore doses between August and December. For this to happen, its capacity will need to increase to about 10 crore doses a month – significantly higher than either of the 1 crore, 1.75 crore or 2.5 crore doses the government currently estimates.
This article first appeared on Quartz.
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