Amid an acute shortage of vaccines, which has forced many state governments to defer the immunisation process of people in the 18-44 age group, the assurance by the Centre that by August-December more than 200 crore vaccine doses would be available is a welcome relief. The government said it had made this projection based on data submitted to it by eight manufacturers, mostly local. If this projected vaccine availability actually happens, then the country with a population of 130 crore will not only be immunised but India could be in a position to export the surplus vaccines as well. But given the government’s absolute bungling of the Covid-19 second wave, its claim on vaccine availability will have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Long before production of the vaccines actually started, a comprehensive plan should have been put in place taking into account factors such as demand, supply and capacity. It is clear from the current shortage that there was no such plan.
But a more pertinent issue is: Can this massive ramping up of capacity actually happen in this very tight time frame of August-December? Many experts believe it will be a humungous task for two reasons. One, the capacity augmentation will depend a lot on the availability of raw material, which is mostly imported. Second, experts point out that production of vaccines is a highly complex and time-consuming process. Even if funds are made available in adequate measure, it can take up to months to ramp up production on a large scale. Given this scenario, many are of the view that the government must import vaccines quickly. Negotiations are already on with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. But at least one of these manufacturers is understood to be insisting on an indemnity clause wherein the company is not held liable for any death due to its vaccine. The government will have to weigh all the pros and cons before taking this call as it is a highly emotive and politically sensitive issue. Many Western nations where these three vaccine brands are available have agreed to this indemnity. The government must consult various stakeholders, experts and opposition parties before taking a decision.