NEW DELHI: A huge 2 crore gap between total Covid vaccines available and actual inoculations in May has prompted experts to raise doubts over Centre’s assertion of 12 crore doses being available in June, saying it could only be the projected production capacity and not doses available for vaccination.
In May, 7,94,05,200 doses of Covid were shown as available through the central supply and the direct procurement by states and private hospitals but the doses administered in the month were just about 6.10 crore.
For June, the government has said that 11.95 crore doses -- 6.1 crore through central quota and 5.9 crore for direct purchase by states and hospitals -- will be available for procurement and supply.
The margin seen in the doses shown as available and vaccinations in May, however, were explained by the Union Health Ministry, in a press briefing on Tuesday as either balanced doses with states for administration or “in the supply pipeline”.
In a statement issued on Wednesday the government reiterated that while 6.1 crore vaccine doses were administered in May, 1.62 crore balance and unutilized doses were available with states.
Experts, however, say that the numbers, despite this argument, do not add up.
Economist R Ramakumar pointed out that while India’s production capacity for Covid vaccines, submitted by the Centre in a Supreme Court affidavit last month, may have been 8.5 crore, 6.5 crore for Covishield and 2 crore for Covaxin in May, looks like the country did nor manufacture those many vaccines.
To support his argument, Ramakumar proposes that globally Covid vaccine makers making adenovirus based vaccines, just as Covishield, are seriously hampered by “yield instability”.
What this means is that large tanks are used to grow mammalian cells for about 2 months which then allows the virus to replicate in these cells for a few days and producers have a prior estimate of this replication rate.
“These prior estimates would be true only if cells divide and grow as expected. But they may not,” says Ramakumar, adding that a range of variations can exist in production conditions, which make biological production fundamentally different from industrial production.
He therefore says that reasons like this one may be delaying production and any projection on what doses are available may be just “writing on water”.
On the “balance dose” clarification, Ramakumar pointed out that at the end of April, the Centre had shown around 1 crore doses as balance which may have been administered in May.
Health economist Rijo M John too told The New Indian Express that 8 crores available for May is based on an assumed production capacity.
“I don’t think 12 crore doses would be available for June as the government says because the indicative production capacity for the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech combined is only 8.5 crore,” he said.
Even if those capacities were to materialize fully, which is quite unlikely, John added, given what happened in May, the actual inoculations for the month of June would be much less and can’t be significantly different from that in May.
Economist Pritam Datta of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, reckoned that low vaccinations in May have also been due to less vaccine procurement by states, possibly due to fund crunch.
“I think June onwards the process will be much smoother, as state governments are now better equipped or prepared to cater this need”.