While Covishield production has been in line with the government's plans, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin has fallen short so far, threatening the government’s target of inoculating all Indian adults by year end
India has fully vaccinated 10% of its population and partially vaccinated 34% of its population so far. As of 25 August, 525 million Covishield doses and 73 million Covaxin doses have been administered. Both the Serum Institute of India (SII) that produces Covishield and Bharat Biotech that produces Covaxin have raised production. But unlike SII which has been able to raise Covishield supplies significantly, Bharat Biotech has lagged behind.
Monthly vaccination data shows that supply of both vaccines have gone up. But Covishield supplies have increased more, going up from 49 million in May to about 100 million a month now. In comparison, Covaxin supplies have moved up from 9 million to 15 million.
While Covishield supply has been in line with government expectations (mainly on account of the export ban in May), Covaxin has fallen short. For example, in April, the government said the monthly production capacity of Covaxin was 10 million doses, set to be doubled to 20 million by May. However, its average supply in the last three months has been only three-fourths of that. This has in turn impacted the speed of India’s vaccination drive.
While government claims about Covaxin distribution continue to remain optimistic, the distribution data tells a different story. Earlier this month, India’s health ministry informed the parliament that Covaxin’s monthly capacity was 25 million in July, and set to reach 58 million in August. However, only 15.1 million doses were distributed in July and 18.3 million in August (so far). The ramp-up over the next five months will depend on whether its new production units in Bengaluru and Ankleshwar can deliver.
Meanwhile, several of India’s Asian peers such as Bangladesh and the Philippines are ramping up vaccine production fast. Bangladesh surpassed the Philippines to reclaim its top position among the most populous countries in weekly increase in vaccination coverage over the past week. The Bangladeshi government has signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s Sinopharm and Bangladesh’s Incepta Vaccines. This would enable the Bangladeshi vaccine manufacturer to produce 5 million export-quality Sinopharm covid-19 vaccine doses per month.
Japan also ramped up its vaccination coverage significantly, accelerated mostly due to the resumption of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which it had stopped using in May due to concerns over blood clots. As advanced economies prioritize booster shots in their own countries, supply snags could again crop up. The World Health Organisation chief called for a two-month moratorium on booster doses but the call is likely to go unheeded.
A silver lining for India is that reported cases have continued to decline at a national level. Over the past week, cases declined by 4% and in the week prior to that, cases fell 8%. All states and union territories saw a decline in cases over the past week, except Chandigarh, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala and Mizoram.
Kerala, which hit the headlines for the highest one-day count in three months on 25 August, has seen its cases rise by 2%. Chandigarh and Delhi undertook reconciliation exercises which led to the rise in tally. Chandigarh added 3,034 cases on 22 August and Delhi added 150 cases on 24 August. Jammu & Kashmir reported an 8.4% increase in cases, with 8 of its 20 districts reporting an increase (on a low base). Anantnag saw the sharpest rise this week, as cases this week jumped by 1.6 times over last week. Mizoram reported an increase of 13.1%, with most cases in Aizawl.
The number of deaths also continues to decline week on week. The total death toll this week was 3,317. Five states reported more than 100 deaths. However, three of them, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, registered a drop in deaths over the past week. In the other two, Odisha and Maharashtra, it grew by less than 5% each.
Among districts, Raigarh and Palgarh (of Maharashtra), which saw a sudden incline in deaths last week, reported lower deaths. Raigarh reported 43 deaths this week, down from 106 last week. Palgarh reported 11 deaths this week, down from 54. Satara, Pune, and Nagpur saw the sharpest increase. Deaths in Satara and Pune this week jumped 2 times from last week. Nagpur reported 30 deaths this week, from just 1 last week.
As cases and deaths ebb, the pressure on governments to ease mobility restrictions and reopen schools will only rise. However, without adequate safety protocols, crowding could lead to a flare-up in cases once again, as some pockets of the country are experiencing.