The Indian govt has announced that all adults can get the jab starting May 1. So what happened to the vaccine shortage? And what does this mean for state govts?

People queue up to get the COVID-19 vaccine.Courtesy: PTI
news COVID-19 Thursday, April 22, 2021 - 21:07

Amid crisis calls and cries for help across the country for COVID-19 beds, medicines, oxygen, the Union government — which has been micromanaging the country’s pandemic until now — did two things. Firstly, it announced that every adult in the country is eligible to get the vaccine starting May 1. And secondly, it said state governments and private companies can buy vaccines themselves and administer them to people. So what does this mean for you? Does this now mean that you can get your vaccine shot on May 1? And does this also mean that state governments have a free hand in deciding their own strategies? Here are some frequently asked questions, answered.

Will I be able to get a COVID-19 jab on May 1?

If you’re lucky, then yes. India’s currently facing a vaccine shortage as per several sources. And considering the population of India, the vaccine manufacturing capacity, and various other factors, it is going to take some time for many of us to get our jabs.

So far, India has administered over 13 crore doses of Covaxin and Covishield — and around 2 crore people have received both jabs of the vaccine, which means another 11 crore people are in line for their second shot. The vaccination drive started in January in phases, so this means on average, about 4.3 crore people are being vaccinated every month.

The manufacturing capacity of Serum Institute of India is 6 to 7 crore doses per month, according to Adar Poonawala, and they're hoping to increase this to 10-11 crore per month by July. And Bharath Biotech can produce about 150 million doses per year — around 1 crore per month. Russian vaccine Sputnik has been approved for India, and several other foreign vaccines are expected to enter the market soon.

India has also exported 64 million doses of vaccines, and has donated vaccines to several countries.

Our population is about 137 crore, and the 18 to 45 age group makes up for the biggest chunk — approximately 45%. That’s 62 crore people. Or 124 crore doses of vaccine.

And for these 62 crore people, about 3 to 4 crore doses of vaccine will be available per month at current capacity, which is likely to increase with new vaccines entering the market and the manufacturing capacity increasing; because the Union government will be procuring 50% of the vaccines manufactured in India, and distributing them to states for inoculating healthcare workers, frontline workers, and people over the age of 45.

TL;DR: Depending on your privilege, access, buying power, state of residence and other contingencies, you will get the vaccine at some point in the next 12 to 14 months.

Do I have to pay for the vaccine or can I get it for free?

This depends on the state you live — and on the financial situation of the said state.

As a policy, states like Kerala, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh have announced that they will be giving vaccines free of cost to all adults in their states. This means that the state exchequer will bear the cost of the vaccines — Rs 400 per dose of Covishield, other manufacturers have not announced their prices yet — and you will be able to get a free dose at government hospitals in the state.

In other states, and at private hospitals, how much you will have to pay remains to be seen. While Serum Institute of India is selling Covishield for Rs 400 per dose to state governments (up from Rs 150 per dose to the central government currently), and Rs 600 per dose to private companies, what price private players set for customers, we can’t say for now.

Why are some state governments upset with the Union government? Isn’t the Union government going to give them some vaccines for free?

The Union government is procuring 50% of the vaccines manufactured in India and will then distribute it to states based on criteria like performance and wastage. But these vaccines can only be used for the 45+ age group, and for healthcare workers and frontline workers.

That means the job — and cost — of vaccinating 45% of the population- that is everyone below 45 years age- falls on state governments.

State governments say they’re already cash-strapped because of the pandemic. Further, the Union government has not left any room for state governments to negotiate a better price for the vaccines from manufacturers. The Union government is buying vaccines at ~Rs 150 per dose for 110 million doses of Covishield.

The fact that manufacturers were already making a profit at the price at which they were selling to the Union government (Rs 150 per dose), and have still been allowed to hike their prices while selling to state governments, is a bone of contention for states.

How much profit are vaccine manufacturers making? Were they running on losses until now?

Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawala has said that the company has been making profits from selling Covishield to the Union government — but “not enough to reinvest”. Dr Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director of Bharat Biotech, has said that Covaxin will be set at ‘maximum price’.

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