From 16 January to 31 March, India had administered 6.5 crore Covid-19 vaccine doses. By 30 April, the number jumped to 15.5 crore with record 9 crore vaccinations in one month. This was achieved in part due to opening up eligibility criteria for those above 45 years of age thereby boosting the demand.
From 1 May, the Centre allowed the States to vaccinate even those in 18-44 group.
The problem of demand was immediately solved. In fact, suddenly, there was too much of it especially given the fact that the domestic production was limited (6.5 crore doses from Serum Institute of India and 2 crore doses from Bharat Biotech). Still, one expected that with nine crore vaccination in a month in April, we could at least expect administration of 30 lakh jabs per day in May as well.
But this hasn’t happened. As of yesterday (23 May), only 19.6 crore doses have been given - an increase of only 4.1 crore jabs from 30 April translating into an average of merely 17.8 lakh doses per day, a far cry from expected 30 lakh figure. If the same rate is extrapolated for the remaining period of this month, one can expect administration of 1.4 crore more doses.
That would mean we end up with only 5.5 crore vaccinations this month compared to 9 crore last month. Where did 3.5 crore doses go? Even if we assume that monthly production is 8.5 crore and government might have tapped into accumulated leftover stock from previous months to vaccinate more people in April, we are still short of 3 crore shots.
Out of domestic production capacity of 8.5 crore doses, the Centre was supposed to procure 50 per cent with other half going to the States.
As per the update provided by the Ministry of Health today (24 May), the States still have 1.8 crore additional doses which have not been used and another 48 lakh doses are in the pipeline and will be supplied in the next three days. That means there are 2.3 crore additional doses with the States which are enough to increase daily vaccination number to 28 lakh per day for the rest of the month.
There is clearly a big gap between doses supplied and doses administered.
This could be because of the demand and supply mismatch in 45+ age group. The States are told to use the doses supplied by the Centre only for those above 45 years of age. The demand may have fallen for this demographic by now. Meanwhile the 18-44 age group has high demand but supply is far less to meet it.
Nonetheless, this still doesn’t explain the full picture - the missing vaccine doses in the supply chain.
With 4.1 crore vaccinations done and 2.3 crore doses with states (and in pipeline for this month), the number adds up to 6.4 crore, still around two crore short of touted domestic production.
Assuming total supply division between states and Centre to be equal, the Centre was supposed to deliver 4.25 crore odd doses this month.
As of 30 April, the Centre had supplied 16.4 crore doses to the States. Till this month’s end, the number will reach 22.3 crore meaning that Centre has delivered a total of 5.9 crore doses in May rather than 4.25 crore that it was supposed to give. This doesn’t make sense unless the total domestic production is of 12 crore doses (which is clearly not the case) or the Centre is getting much more doses than its 50 per cent quota.
One plausible explanation could be that the Centre has signed bulk supply contracts with Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech for supply of doses till July and paid in advance. After supplying 50 per cent of their quota to the Centre and in absence of enough orders from the States/private sector, these companies may be supplying leftover doses to the Centre.
Another reason could be that the Centre has supplied 4.5 crore odd vaccines from this month’s quota and the rest 1.5 crore were from the leftover stock it had from previous months.
Another reason could be that the private sector has bought those millions of doses but their jabs are not being counted in official numbers so far.
Or it could be a combination of all the above factors.
Of course, these are conjectures which one is left to engage in due to absence of data from the Centre, States and the vaccine makers themselves.
While the reasons for the mismatch in supply and production could be many, there is no denying the fact that a couple of crores of vaccines are missing from this month’s arithmetic at least on paper. This needs squaring up. The governments and vaccine makers need to clarify on this mystery and soon.
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