The mass inoculation programme -- under which the entire adult population will be eligible from May one -- is faltering because of vaccine shortages, confusion and petty politics.
To begin with, no state has received the 18+ Covid-19 vaccine stock thus far and many of them have informed the Centre that they will not be able to start the drive in the third phase from Saturday.
The Opposition-ruled states are accusing the Centre of mischief in announcing the vaccination drive in the 18-45 age group from May 1, and even starting registration on the CoWIN website, but making no arrangements for supplies and putting the onus on the states to procure the stock directly from the manufacturers.
They allege that the Centre wants the states to cut a sorry figure, so that it can point out the vaccination drive was earlier proceeding without hiccups because it was being steered by the Union Health Ministry.
Some states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan have already gone on record that the vaccination of 18+ won't start from May 1 as they have got no vaccine.
What is troubling is that the young are increasingly falling prey to the virus in its second coming; to compound the states' woes, the Centre is cornering 50% of all supplies from the two manufacturers and it will supply these doses for inoculation of only those over 45 years of age. Many states have reported that they have either finished or are close to winding up the first round; the rush to vaccinate the 18-plus will impact the second dose and further vaccination of those above 45 and the senior citizens.
The Delhi government, which has promised to vaccinate its entire population for free, has placed an order of 13.4 million doses, but is waiting for the Serum Institute of India to lift the haze enveloping the vaccine timeline. A top private hospital in the capital said it is not sure if it will be able to vaccinate even those above 45 years — with the first or the second dose. The managing director of Moolchand Hospital said: "As of now, we do not have any procurement orders as suppliers have refused to give any clarity on pricing and when stocks will be available."
The situation is worse in the case of private hospitals as the two manufacturers have told them to wait for six months for the supplies, since their turn will come only after they have first served the Centre and then met the state governments' demand. They are worried that they may not be even able to provide the second dose to the individuals vaccinated thus far, as they are not sure about pricing.
As such there is no possibility of vaccination of the 18-45 age group in private hospitals, notwithstanding many states designating more hospitals as vaccination centres on the directive of the health ministry. In fact, NATHEALTH, an apex body of the major private hospitals in the country, has written to the health ministry, warning that they see not enough vaccines even in the pipeline to meet the demand for at least three months.
"We do not believe that there is a substantive volume that is unused right now. We don't believe that any new manufacturer entering India will be able to match up to these volumes over the next three months; and that indicates a severe demand, given that the run-rate of vaccination is 3.5 million dosage per day and the supplies add up to only 75% to 80% of the demand," says the letter of NATHEALTH.
It has urged the Centre to ensure continuity of vaccine supplies through the state government channels at least until the private sector establishes its links with all major manufacturers globally. The association also told the health ministry that major private hospitals were told by the American producers of the vaccines that they would supply only to the government and not to the private agencies or hospitals unless the Indian government gives an authorisation to them to procure on their behalf.