Several States in the past fortnight have placed global bids for a total of 21 crore vaccines doses, fixing deadlines of three to six months for the stocks to be delivered in batches. But this could turn out to be more a cosmetic exercise given the global crunch for vaccines amidst big advance orders have been booked by various countries for the vaccines.
Officials in these States told News18 that they have taken the step under “tremendous public pressure” as they face a huge demand for vaccine shots from the 18-44 age group, whose inoculation has become solely the State government’s responsibility since May 1.
The spate of global tenders issued by at least nine States so far also exhibit little belief in the Centre’s assertions of a vaccine deluge in India after August with Health Minister Harsh Vardhan claiming there will be a total of 30 crore doses available between now and July and 216 crore more doses available between August and December for all age-groups.
The government in a statement on Wednesday said States would receive nearly five crore vaccine doses from the two vaccine manufacturers till the end of June for the 18-44 age group. The promised supply number seems woefully inadequate, prompting States like UP to have placed global tenders for four crore doses, Tamil Nadu for five crore doses, Odisha for 3.8 crore doses, Kerala for three crore doses and smaller States have made bids for 1 to 2 crore doses.
“Our major hope in the bids on the domestic manufacturers of Sputnik V Vaccine,” a senior state official told News18.
The Reason: Huge demand from 18-44 age
As per the government data, over 6.5 crore people in the 18-44 age category have registered for a vaccine dose since enrolments opened on April 28, out of which only about 10 per cent of people have got the jabs so far. The inoculation level for the 18-44 category stood at about 70 lakh as of Thursday. That means nearly six crore registered people in this age group are already waiting for a jab, with nearly 20 lakh more registering daily meaning the total registrations in the 18-44 age group could go up to a total of 20 crore by end of July.
The supplies to the States so far are from the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, with no more than a total of about 13 crore vaccines expected by end of July. “This leaves a gap of nearly seven crore vaccines for the 18-44 age group till July which is a huge shortfall,” a senior official in the Uttar Pradesh government said, explaining the need for the biggest global tender of four crore vaccines to be issued by UP.
The burgeoning demand from the 18-44 age group is also reflecting in the daily vaccination numbers. For example, in the last three days, out of the total 39 lakh people vaccinated in the country, nearly 44 per cent of them at 17 lakh people were of the 18-44 age group who got their first dose of the vaccine. The demand for the vaccine among the 45+ age group, especially for the second dose, has plummeted since the last one week after the government increased the interval for the second dose to 12-16 weeks.
“The situation now is that while there is adequate stock with many States from the Centre for the 45+ age group, especially of Covishield, there is hardly any stock available for the 18-44 age group which States have to procure directly and which is seeing the maximum demand,” a third State official explained.
The Centre’s policy also does not allow States to divert the stocks coming from the Centre towards the 18-44 age group.
Peer Pressure among States
States with the biggest global vaccine bids, like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, are struggling with just 41,319 and 7,401 people vaccinated, respectively, in the 18-44 age group so far while Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have vaccinated only 4,605 and 500 people of this age group, respectively, despite a very high number of registrations by the 18-44 age group in these States.
The States also seem to be competing amongst themselves to place global bids to send a message to their populace that they are making efforts for them. Like, after Haryana announced its intention to place a global tender last week, the opposition parties in Punjab have been pressing the Amarinder Singh government to place a tender too. The tender for one crore vaccines of Andhra Pradesh was quickly followed by a tender from Telangana on Wednesday for one crore vaccines.
Tamil Nadu has so far placed the biggest global tender for five crore vaccines, soon after UP was the first with a tender for four crore jabs, and was followed by Kerala which placed a tender of three crore jabs.
This phenomenon has also been prompted after States which have so far not placed global tenders but have still notched up top vaccination numbers so far in the 18-44 age group given they could place early orders and secure adequate supplies from the two Indian manufacturers, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. Rajasthan, Bihar and Delhi have inoculated the maximum number of people in the 18-44 age group, at 10.6 lakh, 8.9 lakh and 8.3 lakh, respectively, and have not issued any global tender so far.
Delhi, however, has said it is now facing a shortage of jabs for the 18-44 category too.