NEW DELHI: A parliamentary standing committee had in March suggested ramping up of production capacity of the two COVID vaccines manufactured in India for ensuring their availability to a wider population as soon as possible after it was informed that there could be a "shortage" if the inoculation is opened beyond the priority groups.
The recommendation was made by the 31-member committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, chaired by senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, in its report on Demand for Grants for Department of Biotechnology that was tabled in Parliament on March 8.
The panel has as many as 14 members from the ruling BJP.
"The Committee recommends to strengthen the efforts for ramping up the production capacity of the two approved vaccines as well as provide all research, laboratory infrastructure and capacity building support to the other vaccine candidates in the pipeline, in order to ensure the availability of a safe, affordable, and efficacious vaccine to the wider population as soon as possible," the report said.
According to sources, during the standing committee meeting on February 17, members of the panel had asked as to how soon the vaccination exercise can be opened beyond priority groups, to which it was conveyed that there could be a shortage if it is opened beyond the priority groups.
When asked about the recommendation of the committee, Ramesh said it was clear to the panel from the submissions made by the government that the current production would be inadequate to meet the demand for vaccines.
"India needs around 1.9 billion doses to fully vaccinate all adults. It was clear to the Standing Committee from the data presented by the government that the current production capacity is inadequate to meet that demand.
"That's why we recommended that the production capacity must be ramped up as soon as possible. Alas, this wasn't done, and now we are facing a massive vaccine shortage," the house panel chairman Jairam Ramesh told PTI.
However, BJP MP from Jhansi Anurag Sharma, who was part of the panel, said the Centre had worked on the committee's recommendations by allocating funds to both Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India.
Several states have decided to issue global tenders for procurement of COVID vaccines as the domestic supply has failed to keep up with the rising demand amid the fierce second wave of the pandemic.
These include Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha.
The parliamentary panel report tabled in March also mentions that Covaxin, developed jointly by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has a planned production capacity of 150 million doses per year.
The estimated manufacturing capacity of Covishield manufactured by the Serum Institute of India is about 70-100 million doses per month.
The Department of Biotechnology had also informed the standing committee that the Centre launched 'Mission COVID Suraksha' for research and development of Indian COVID-19 vaccines which are affordable and accessible.
The mission aims to accelerate the development of approximately 5-6 vaccine candidates.
It is being implemented by BIRAC, a PSU.
The total budget allocated to it is Rs 900 crore for 12 months.
India started the world's largest vaccination drive on January 16 this year in a phased manner with healthcare workers (HCWs) getting inoculated first.
The vaccination of frontline workers (FLWs) started from February 2.
The next phase of COVID-19 vaccination commenced from March 1 for those over 60 years of age and for people aged 45 and above with specified co-morbid conditions.
India launched vaccination for all people aged more than 45 from April 1.
Implementation of the Liberalised and Accelerated Phase 3 Strategy of Covid-19 Vaccination to inoculate those in the age group of 18-44 years started from May 1 amid the outbreak of the second COVID wave.
The Centre had also allowed states to directly procure vaccines from manufacturers at a pre-decided rate.