Covaxin has so far played second fiddle in India’s covid-19 vaccination push. But with the general pool eligible for the vaccine expanding 2.5 times to 345 million from April 1, Covaxin will need to step up to service demand
Come April 1, India will extend covid-19 vaccinations to all citizens above the age of 45 years. Thus, in phase III, the pool of the general population eligible for the vaccine will expand nearly 2.5 times to about 345 million. If the current demand-to-eligible population ratio continues, India is likely to need greater acceptance and offtake of Covaxin. The Bharat Biotech vaccine, developed in India, has played second fiddle so far, but it will need to step up to meet the greater demands of phase III.
Currently, the 7-day average of vaccine doses given is about 2.2 million. Or, a monthly run rate of about 66 million. That’s also near the current manufacturing capacity of 60-70 million of Covishield, which is delivering about 90% of doses in India. This Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine is made in India by the Serum Institute of India.
Serum plans to increase its covid-19 vaccine capacity to 100 million in April. But it also has export commitments under a multilateral alliance. Thus, as phase III begins, the imperative for Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin to shoulder more responsibility is likely to increase.
The government’s 300 million vaccination target by August-end will require an average pace of 3.3 million shots per day, which is about 50% higher than the current pace. Already, the turnout for the second dose has increased to 74%, against 55% at the beginning of the month. This implies that almost three-fourths of those eligible for the second dose turned up to complete it. With the relaxation in the age bar, demand for vaccines is likely to increase further. For supply to keep pace, Covaxin will need to step up.
Till 25 March, 52 million doses had been administered. Adjusted for population, Kerala retained the top spot in coverage (73.4 doses per 1,000 population). Over the past week, though, Gujarat (68.6 doses) and Rajasthan (61.6 doses) leapfrogged Delhi (58.5 doses).
At a worldwide level, India occupies the third position in total doses administered, after the United States (124 million) and China (80 million), according to data portal Our World in Data. In terms of doses administered per 100 people, over the past week, India saw an increase from 2.7 to 3.7. Among major countries, Israel (113.2) leads the way, followed by UAE (75.6), Chile (46.9) and UK (45.2).
Meanwhile, cases are rising. On Thursday, India reported more than 50,000 cases for the first time this year. As many as 28 states and union territories have registered an increase in confirmed cases for two straight weeks. Of these, 18 reported cases in all their districts. Punjab saw the highest spike in daily cases on a week-on-week basis (7.2%), followed by Maharashtra (6.6%), Chhattisgarh (5.5%), Gujarat (2.9%) and Karnataka (0.9%).
In Maharashtra, new cases have more than doubled in 26 of the 35 districts as compared to two weeks ago. New cases are four-fold higher in Parbhani and Sangli and six-fold higher in Nanded and Nandurbar. Six districts – Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai, Thane, Nashik and Aurangabad – recorded above 10,000 cases each this week, accounting for 41.8% of total cases nationally.
Likewise, in Punjab, new cases in 20 of 22 districts have more than doubled compared to two weeks ago. The worst is Barnala, where new cases have increased 7 times. Unlike in Maharashtra, mortality rates have also risen in Punjab.
Testing has not kept pace with the increasing caseload. Data from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) shows that 1.06 million covid tests were done on 24 March, an increase of only 35% over 1 March levels. Back then, for every 100 tests conducted, only 2 returned positive. This figure is now at 4.1. Eight states have reported a higher weekly positivity rate than the national average. Maharashtra had the highest positivity rate, of 20.5%. The positivity rates of Punjab and Chandigarh (8% and 10.7%, respectively) were also more than double the national average.
Nationally, the death rate is relatively low thus far: 1,397 deaths for the week to 25 March, as compared to 3,423 in the second week of December, when there was a similar increase in new cases. But this could change if testing, tracing, and treatment protocols remain lax across states.
Already, localised lockdowns are making a comeback, as the Centre urged states to impose restrictions ahead of a week filled with festivals. Restricted mobility, in turn is hurting economic activity and investor sentiments.
As a new virus strain is discovered and fears of a second wave intensify, the government also needs to step up its communication campaign once again, emphasizing safety and physical distancing protocols.