Coronavirus vaccination in Punjab: Punjab has stated that it was facing a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, and in order to get doses, it would be joining the Covax facility – a WHO-led platform that aims to provide equitable access to vaccine supplies to the countries. Apart from Punjab, many other states as well as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have stated that they are going to attempt to import vaccines to meet their requirements, according to a report in The Indian Express. However, currently, it doesn’t seem like any of the attempts from states to import doses or that of Punjab to join Covax would lead to any substantial result.
In fact, as far as Punjab is concerned, it is not yet clear if the state is even eligible to join the Covax facility, since the latter has only been working with national governments till now.
States are looking to import vaccines because of the shortage of doses that the country is currently facing, which is causing the inoculation drive in the country to slow down. For some time in April, India had been administering around 35 lakh doses a day, and now, this figure has dropped to about 22 lakh a day, even as the demand has significantly risen, especially due to the opening up of the drive to the entire adult population from May 1. The report also cited experts as saying that the country would need to inoculate a whopping 1 crore people every day to immunise the entire population of the country by the end of 2021.
At the moment, India is using two vaccines – Serum Institute of India-manufactured Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin – to undertake the vaccination drive, while several other vaccines are in the pipeline. This also includes Russia’s Sputnik V.
Now, the government has said that between August and December, India would get 216 crore doses of vaccines, if things went as planned. If this pans out, the doses should be sufficient to ensure that the entire adult population of the country is vaccinated. However, for the time being, it seems that the shortage of doses would continue.
However, the states are likely to be disappointed by moving to the international market, because the doses are unavailable there as well, even as 14 vaccines are being used in the world. Some countries had already booked millions of doses early on into the process, and currently, most producers of vaccines are scrambling to ensure that they can fulfil that commitment, which means that none of the 14 vaccines are available at an immediate notice.
What is even worse for Punjab is that while it is unclear whether it can join Covax or not, the platform itself is struggling to procure doses from producers as well as donor nations.
In a show of the prevalent inequality, a few rich nations, including the US, the UK and other European countries, had placed their vaccine orders with the producers, even before any jabs had received approval for emergency use. The US alone whipped out $10 billion to make advance payments to six producers and its bookings amounted to more than two doses needed for every one of its citizens. Even if these manufacturers were to produce vaccines at peak capacity, it would take them several months to fulfil these bookings. This would leave less privileged nations struggling to get access to doses in the initial stages. Covax was formed to bridge this gap by collectively procuring vaccines and distributing them among its member nations that could not get access to them on their own.
Punjab chief secretary Vini Mahajan was quoted by the report as saying that the state was looking at all the opportunities, and the suggestion of joining Covax was brought up during a Cabinet meeting recently. The suggestion had been accepted by the Cabinet, Mahajan added, while evading the question as to how it planned to procure vaccines from Covax without being a national government.