As COVID-19 rages, can India meet 2 billion vaccine target?
India on Friday reported over 4,200 deaths due to COVID-19 along with 2.59 lakh new cases. The country's second wave has been the world's worst and it has coincided with a decline in the number of vaccinations, which peaked in early-April. The government has aimed to produce over two billion vaccine doses later this year to meet this shortfall. But, can it be achieved?
According to the Union Health Ministry, till Friday morning, India reported a total of 2,60,31,991 COVID-19 cases. The death toll has reached 2,91,331. So far, 2,27,12,735 patients have recovered, while 30,27,925 cases involve active infections. In the past 24 hours alone, India recorded 2,59,551 new infections, 3,57,295 more discharges, and 4,209 fresh fatalities. 19,18,79,503 vaccine doses have been administered so far.
Maharashtra reported 29,911 new COVID-19 cases along with 47,371 more recoveries. Karnataka—the second worst-hit state after Maharashtra—reported 28,869 new cases and 52,257 discharges. Meanwhile, the third worst-hit Kerala added 30,491 new cases and 44,369 recoveries. Uttar Pradesh reported 6,725 new cases and 13,590 recoveries. Tamil Nadu—the fifth worst-hit state—reported the biggest single-day spike of 35,579 new cases and 25,368 recoveries.
As India faces a vaccine shortfall, the central government has said it aims to produce over two billion doses between August and December. For Covishield—developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII)—the government has estimated 750 million doses will be produced between August and December. However, internal SII production estimates shared with Reuters say otherwise.
SII's production capacity is expected to reach 100-110 million doses a month from July and stay at that level for the near future, a source told Reuters. With these estimates, production over this year's last five months will be 27% short of the 750 million target. Further, India has also included 866 million doses of five yet-to-be-approved vaccines in its two billion-plus target.
India's last month's export ban for vaccine doses has caused global fear since the SII is the world's largest vaccine maker. Reportedly, the ban will continue until October, which will lead to a shortfall for COVAX, a global initiative to ensure equitable vaccine distribution. Without vaccines, experts fear the virus may mutate, develop immune escape, and we will be "back to square one."