NEW DELHI: There is a mystery in India’s vaccination numbers that official figures don’t seem to be able to explain. The mystery is that going by both government declarations and those of the vaccine manufacturers, India is producing at least about 27 lakh doses a day on average even without taking Sputnik into account. Yet, vaccination in the first three weeks of May has averaged just 16.2 lakh doses and states are complaining of shortages.
The government in an affidavit in the Supreme Court earlier this month averred that Serum Institute of India (SII) was producing 6.5 crore doses of Covishield a month and Bharat Biotech was producing 2 crore doses of Covaxin a month, which was to be enhanced to 5.5 crore doses a month by July. It also said Sputnik was expected to ramp up production from 30 lakh a month to 1.2 crore a month by July.
SII has itself repeatedly said its production is 60-70 million doses a month, that is 6-7 crore. Bharat Biotech CMD Krishna Ella also was on record saying the company was slated to produce 20 million doses in April and would produce 30 million in May.
Let us take the lowest figure in each case. That would mean 8.5 crore doses of just Covishield and Covaxin in May. For a month with 31 days, that averages to 27.4 lakh doses a day. This is assuming that Bharat Biotech has been unable to reach the anticipated 3 crore doses this month and has produced only 2 crore as in April.
Now, look at the vaccination figures from the CoWin portal. They show that in the first 22 days of May, India has administered a little under 3.6 crore doses at an average of 16.2 lakh doses a day. At the average rate so far, the month will end with about 5 core doses having been delivered. However, the numbers have been falling steadily and the average for the last seven days (May 16 to 22) has been under 13 lakh.
Even if the month ends with 5 crore doses delivered, the question remains — what explains just 5 crore when at least 8.5 crore doses are being produced? One possible explanation could be that the quota for the private sector — one-fourth of total production — is being underutilised due to a variety of factors, including delays in deals with the manufacturers. But this could at best explain some of the gap.
States have repeatedly complained of shortages of supplies. On Sunday, for instance, Karnataka halted vaccination for the 18-44 age group citing shortages. On Saturday, Delhi had done the same and Maharashtra too had taken a similar step on May 12. Again on Saturday, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister wrote to the prime minister asking for supplies to be stopped to private hospitals. The grounds he cited were that supplies were constrained, and these hospitals were charging exorbitant amounts for the vaccines.
The shortages are also evident anecdotally and from the fact that vaccination slots are difficult to come by on the CoWin portal or app. That is true across states and districts, though the degree of difficulty may vary.
Which leaves us with the question — what is happening to the vaccines being produced? Where in the pipeline between the producer and the people trying to get vaccinated? Are they getting lost or bottlenecked?