NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has opened vaccines for all adults as of next month, but is already in short supply due to the attack on the worst wave of COVID-19 in the world.
Public forecasts of the only two vaccine manufacturers show that their total monthly product of 70-80 million doses will increase in just two months or more, although the number of people eligible for vaccines will double to about 800 million as of May 1.
Imports from Russia were also postponed. India could start receiving the Sputnik V vaccine only at the end of May, said its local distributor Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Reuters, at least a month later than New Delhi expected.
That could lead to chaos in vaccination centers – and perhaps help further spread the virus – as people terrified of COVID-19 patients fighting for hospital beds and medical oxygen rush to seek immunity, government officials have privately warned.
India has the largest capacity to produce vaccines in the world, but has decided to postpone large exports for now to focus on its own needs.
Still, the stock is already in short supply even for currently priority recipients over the age of 45.
“Eligibility does not guarantee availability,” said a senior government official who declined to be identified.
“There are fears that the entire infrastructure will collapse, but at the moment all the channels are opening up to increase supplies from other countries … India needs a lot of help to solve this crisis.”
India currently gives about 3 million doses a day, above a daily production of about 2.5 million, and uses existing stocks to fill the gap. Many states have reported that they are not in stock.
Another government official said of the prospects for vaccination: “(By May there will be) nothing dramatic, but more cases and deaths.”
India on Thursday recorded the largest daily share of 314,835 infections, for a total of nearly 16 million, of whom about 185,000 died.
The Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the vaccines.
India has also called on Pfizer, Modern and Johnson and Johnson to provide it with vaccines. Pfizer said he is in talks with the government while J&J seeks approval for a small local trial, but has no plans to sell it. Modern did not comment.
Of the three, only J&J has a local production partner.
According to the current immunization rate, using the AstraZenec shot and domestic Covaxin, it will take India more than two years to cover 70% of its 1.35 billion people, said Ramanan Laxminarayan, founder of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in Washington and New Delhi.
“India must produce at least 12 million doses daily for its own consumption,” he said.
So far, it has administered more than 131 million doses, the highest in the world after the United States and China. It is, however, lower than many richer countries per capita.
While India initially struggled with public hesitation over the vaccine, which in part led to it exporting millions of doses, the situation is now quite the opposite.
“Hundreds of people come to get the vaccines, but they only distribute 100 coupons every day due to the limited offer,” said 45-year-old Santosh Pardeshi, who runs a laundry in the western district of Satara.
“I didn’t get a coupon the first day, so I got to the center the next day at 6 o’clock, stood in line for five hours and managed to get the first dose.”
A senior Satara health official said the district could give 50,000 doses a day, but supplies were only half as low.
“All vaccination centers are now crowded and in some places people are getting tired of standing in line and starting to quarrel with our staff,” said the official, who refused to be identified to speak without the approval of superiors.
“The crowd will increase further from May 1 … if they do not increase stocks, it would be difficult to manage the crowd. We may have to seek police help. ”
Reporting by Krishna N. Dasa of New Delhi, Rupa Jain in Panjim and Rajendra Jadhava in Satara; Additional reporting by Neha Arora of New Delhi; Editing: Kim Coghill