India’s federal government on Monday pushed back against news reports that it had not yet placed fresh orders for Covid-19 vaccines despite several vaccination centers across the country reporting shortages, calling them “baseless,” a development that comes after the country’s biggest manufacturer blamed the lack of orders for its delayed ramp up in production and warned of vaccine shortages till July.
The Business Standard reported on Monday, the government last placed an order for 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 20 million doses of the locally-developed Covaxin shot back in March.
The two manufacturers of those shots—Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech—are expected to complete the deliveries of the last tranche of that order in the next few days, the report added.
Earlier on Sunday, in an interview with the Financial Times, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla warned that India is likely to see vaccine shortages till July.
SII—the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer—is currently producing 60-70 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine per month and it expects to ramp its capacity up to 100 million doses by July, Poonawalla said.
On being asked about why he did not expand his company’s manufacturing capacity earlier, Poonawalla noted that there were no additional orders from the Indian government, and his company did not think it needed to make more than 1 billion doses a year.
The vaccine supply crunch in India has caused a knock-on effect worldwide, as several lower and middle-income countries which were reliant on supplies from India have been affected by the country’s restrictions on vaccine exports.
India’s health ministry strongly refuted Business Standard’s report in a statement calling it “completely incorrect” and “not based on facts.” The statement claimed that the government made 100% advanced payment for an additional 110 million doses of the SII-made AstraZeneca vaccine on April 28, which will be delivered in May, June and July. The statement also claimed that 100% of advanced payments were made on the same day for an additional 20 million doses of the locally developed Covaxin jab.
156.8 million. That’s the total number of doses of Covid-19 vaccines that have been administered across the country as of Sunday morning, according to data released by India’s health ministry. However, only 28.6 million Indians—about 2% of the country’s total population—have been fully vaccinated.
Bharat Biotech, which manufactures the locally developed Covaxin shot, currently produces about 10 million doses per month. The company has promised to expand that capacity to 100 million doses per month by September.
It’s unclear why the federal government has not placed fresh orders of vaccines despite establishing a new vaccine procurement policy. Under this new system, the federal government will procure 50% of the total vaccines manufactured, and then distribute them to the states for free. The remaining 50% supply will be procured by the state governments themselves, along with private hospitals. The split procurement process has led to vaccine manufacturers setting up a tiered pricing system, where states have to pay the manufacturers more than double of what the federal government pays. Sales to private hospitals come at an even larger premium. Both SII and Bharat Biotech have been criticized for adapting this tiered pricing strategy, which many say could make the vaccine unaffordable for the poor. The federal government has also been criticized for allowing this to happen, with even the country’s Supreme Court questioning the policy.
Covid-19 second wave: Centre yet to place fresh order for vaccines (Bussiness Standard)
India’s vaccine shortage will last months, biggest manufacturer warns (Financial Times)