Supplies of COVID-19 vaccines will only start meeting demand across the country by late July or early August and till then, it is going to be a challenge, Telangana Industry and Information Technology Minister KT Rama Rao said on Thursday.
The minister, who was recently appointed as the chairman of the state task force on procurement of vaccines and medicines, asserted that the state was working on getting increased supplies of vaccines from the Union government and was also simultaneously engaged in discussions with vaccine manufacturers.
"But the supplies will only start meeting demand across the country hopefully by late July or early August. Till then it's going to be a challenge," he said while answering a question on Twitter.
He quoted NITI Aayog's Health Member, VK Paul, as saying that 216 crore doses will be available between August-December 2021, and vaccination drives will continue throughout the year in India. According to him, Telangana has the ability and infrastructure to vaccinate the entire state within 45 days but it is the problem of lack of availability of vaccines.
Responding to several questions about vaccinations and vaccine availability, he tried to explain that the state has a limited role as the Union government is handling the distribution. He said currently the state's focus is to get the second dose to all 45 lakh people who have taken the first jab.
"You should know that the Govt of India has mandated that 85% of all production be handed over to it. From the remaining 15%, all states and institutions have to compete. It's easier to procure for a few hundred employees but the challenge is manifold when your state population is 3.6 crore," he said, when a person asked if the state can procure vaccines like corporations are doing for their employees.
Telangana, which decided to float global tenders for procurement, is currently in discussions with all three vaccine makers, Bharat Biotech, the Serum Institute of India and Dr Reddy's Labs.
"Whatever is allowed by the Drug Controller General of India is what we can procure. So far only three vaccines are available, Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik. Hopefully Pfizer and Moderna will be allowed. By August, I am hearing that another Indian vaccine may also be available from BE," he said, asking if the state is considering procurement of vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech.
He pointed that in Telangana out of the total 45 plus population of 92.24 lakhs, 45.37 lakh people have been vaccinated with the first dose while second dose has been given to more than 10.3 lakh people
"I think we should set aside all inhibitions and egos and work together as humanity during this hour of crisis. Doesn't matter whether it's Sinovac or Pfizer or Moderna or something else, as long as it works and helps save lives," he said when asked about his opinion on India asking China for supplies of Sinovac.
"Vaccine regionalism is not allowed, brother. Just because someone is manufacturing in our state, we are not entitled to the first right of usage," KTR said in reply to a suggestion that since Covaxin is being manufactured in Telangana, the vaccines may be offered to other states after vaccination is completed in Telangana.
"A thought definitely worth considering," KTR remarked to a suggestion that the Union government should be urged to give the vaccine patent to all the pharmaceutical companies to meet the country's requirements.
"This is a decision that has to be taken by the Government of India," he quipped when asked if the Telangana government is coordinating with Bharat Biotech to share formula and increase production of vaccines with all other pharma companies.
To another query, KTR said vaccination of 70% population is considered ideal to break the chain. "So out of the 2.9 crore adult population, we need to vaccinate 1.9 crore people. Since it's a 2-dose vaccine, we need 3.8 crore doses. It's a demand-supply challenge."
Asked about oxygen cylinders and Remdesivir being sold at extremely high prices, the minister said, "Challenge on oxygen is availability across the country. The Government of India has taken complete control over distribution by state. On Remdesivir, we are doing an audit. Have found some cases of indiscriminate usage and we are also told doctors are under pressure from patients and their attendants to recommend Remdesivir even in those cases where it's not needed (anxiety for well being of their loved ones). We also made arrests of many persons who indulged in black marketing. (We will) continue to audit and contain unnecessary hoarding."