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Over 23 lakhs Covid-19 Vaccine Doses Wasted in India: Why It Happened And How It Can Be Fixed

Representative image.

Representative image.

Since the vaccines need to be utilised within four hours of being opened, it is vital for vaccinators to coordinate the flow of beneficiaries.

Over 7 crore vaccine doses have been provided by the Centre to states so far, out of which more than 3.46 crore vaccine doses have been administered. Till date, around 6.5% of Covid vaccines have gone to waste according to health officials. Over 23 lakh vaccine doses wasted.

The Centre has asked states to encourage optimum utilisation of vaccines and to significantly curtail squandering after India witnessed a vaccine wastage of 6.5%.

What is causing the wastage?

Each Covishield vial has 10 doses in total, while a Covaxin vial contains 20 doses — each dose being 0.5 ml (for one person). Once opened, all doses have to be administered within four hours, otherwise, it goes to waste and the remaining doses have to be destroyed. The vaccine wastage in India can be largely be attributed to low turnout beneficiaries turning up to get vaccinated.

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Since the vaccines need to be utilised within four hours of being opened, it is vital for vaccinators to coordinate the flow of beneficiaries.

Dr Suresh Kumar, medical director of LNJP Hospital, the only government hospital in Delhi that is vaccinating 24*7, said, “For example if we open up a vial in the evening around 6:00 pm and two people get vaccinated after that because of low turn out of beneficiaries, we are forced to destroy the rest of the right doses.”

“Single-dose vials are not cost-effective and have packaging and transportation issues. These vaccines are manufactured for masses. So, we need more and more people to be coming in to get inoculated,” he added.

How can the wastage be stopped?

India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive has become the second largest inoculation programme in the world. Despite the numbers, experts say there’s need to further pace up the vaccination drive.

“Vaccination centres should be provided with a backup data of people around 1km radius so they can call in people to get vaccinated. This backup list is important so the vaccines don’t go waste once a vial is opened. The list could include non-eligible people, better to have administered a dose than to throw it,” said public health expert Dileep Mavalankar told News18.

He also said, “Distributing vaccines across the country is one strategy but a better strategy at this point is to concentrate doses in districts where active cases are on a rise. Fifty districts have 60% of active Covid cases in the country. Giving vaccine to everybody in these districts would help to control the spread of the virus.”

Medical experts have suggested that the problem of wastage of vaccine doses could also be solved by expanding the eligibility criteria for vaccination instead of just focusing on the elderly and people above the age of 45 with co-morbidities.

Though sources in the health ministry have told News18 that the plan of expanding vaccination drive is still being deliberated on and that the government would rather want a significant number of people from the current vulnerable group to be vaccinated first.

“Wastage of this elixir-like precious commodity – the most important thing now for an individual and the country as a whole, is absolutely wrong,” Member (Health) NITI Aayog Dr VK Paul said at the weekly health ministry briefing.

Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan added that “The message we have shared with states is that vaccines are invaluable commodities. They are public health goods and therefore vaccines have to be optimally utilised. Vaccine wastage has to be drastically reduced. Any reduction in wastage means that you end up inoculating more people and therefore the chances of disrupting the chain of infection grow that much more.”

State-wise wastage

Several states have registered higher levels of wastage as compared to the national average of 6.5 percent. Telangana lost 17.5 percent of its doses, Andhra Pradesh 11.6 percent and Uttar Pradesh 9.4 percent.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi too flagged the issue of vaccine wastage during his virtual meeting with the chief ministers. He asked states to ensure not a single shot is wasted. “Over 10 % wastage has been reported in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. We have no right to waste a dose which is another person’s right. I urge states to aim for zero vaccine wastage targets. The more we save, the more eligible people will get both doses.”

first published:March 19, 2021, 08:26 IST