India’s private sector is urging government to let companies support New Delhi’s failed Covid-19 inoculation campaign, as technical issues and vaccine skepticism slow the campaign.
New Delhi has set an ambitious goal of vaccinating 300 million people by August, including health workers, frontline workers and people over the age of 50.
But problems with the government’s CoWIN vaccination app, muted adoption, and limited government capacity limited the campaign, with just 8.8 million doses given since. the deployment has started a month ago.
At this rate, it will take almost three years to vaccinate even the initial target group.
Vaccine manufacturers are prohibited from selling vaccines to any Indian entity except the central government. It purchased just 21 million doses from the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, and reported 10 million doses of Bharat Biotech, a national producer who has developed his own vaccine.
The Confederation of Indian Industry has repeatedly called on New Delhi to allow private entities to buy vaccines and administer them to their employees, staff families and members of surrounding communities, following government protocols on priority groups.
As the vaccination campaign progresses, the Serum Institute is export millions of doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine around the world.
“We have a vaccine manufacturer who is prevented from supplying freely to India but who can export freely,” said Naushad Forbes, former chairman of Confederation of Indian Industry and co-chairman of engineering firm Forbes Marshall.
“You have the bizarre situation of millions of doses ready; you have people who want the vaccine, you have people who are ready to administer it, and the only thing preventing that from happening is the existing government process.
Anand Mahindra, president of Mahindra Group, an automotive technology conglomerate, wrote on Twitter: “We need to harness the capacity of the private sector to expand distribution quickly. Widespread vaccination is our main hope against any new wave which now poses a serious threat.
Suresh Jadhav, executive director of the Serum Institute, said conglomerates such as Dependency industries and Tata had inquired about obtaining vaccines for their workers and hoped that private entities could purchase vaccines by March.
India, which has reported 10.9 million cases of the coronavirus, began its vaccination campaign in mid-January, daily workload has dropped from a peak of nearly 100,000 per day in mid-September to about 13,000 to 14,000 per day.
However, technical issues on the CoWIN app, used by the central government to manage vaccine logistics, including registration, hampered the campaign. This weekend, the names of some people eligible for a second dose were not reflected in the system.
The Indian Council of Medical Research did not respond to questions about the vaccine rollout, deferring to a committee that works directly under the Prime Minister’s office and the Ministry of Health.
This week, Harsh Vardhan, the Minister of Health, said that no decision had been taken to make the vaccines available on the private market. It was “the government’s responsibility to keep things totally under control,” he told reporters.
But Forbes said India had a chance to get ahead of the virus as levels of new cases were relatively low, amid indications that infections were re-emerging as Indians relaxed their adherence to wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
“There is a temporal element to this,” he says. “If we can use vaccines on a large scale in our cities, then we’ve got this thing beaten. If we wait for the infection rate to increase before we get our act together, we will have missed a great opportunity.
Coronavirus Business Update
How is the coronavirus wreaking havoc on markets, businesses, our daily lives and our workplaces? Stay informed with our coronavirus newsletter.