Data from the central government’s Co-WIN shows vaccination trends for total doses in the country have dropped by 50% from April 19 to May 17. A few states have stopped vaccination for the 18-44 age group. Vaccine hesitancy or vaccine shortage to blame?
"The number of sessions have come down drastically due to vaccine shortage,” say experts. Photo: @PBNS_India/twitter
It’s been eighteen days since the COVID vaccination has opened up for people between the age group of 18-44 years, thereby making a large section of the Indian population eligible for the shots. However, instead of showing an increase in coverage of vaccination in the country, official data shows a drastic decline in vaccine doses administered in the last one month.
As per the central government’s data on Co-WIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Work) website, vaccination trends for total doses (first and second) in the country have dropped by 50.8 per cent in the last one month (see graph).
On April 19 (Monday), over 3 million (3,065,254) total doses were administered across the country. Nearly a month later, on May 17 (Monday), the total doses administered in the country had reduced to 1.5 million (1,505,750).
“Yes, there is a drop of 50.8 per cent. The number of sessions have come down drastically due to vaccine shortage,” Bengaluru-based K Suresh Kishan Rao, public health specialist who has been associated with the country’s immunisation programme for the last 50 years, told Gaon Connection.
During the same time period, April 19 to May 17, second doses administered to beneficiaries decreased from 980,405 to 237,619 — 75.8 per cent decline. Also, the first doses administered have dropped from 2,084,849 to 1,268,131 — a decline of 39.2 per cent.
“There is only one simple reason behind the decreasing trend in vaccination. There is a vaccine shortage. The government announced vaccination for eighteen plus. But they do not have enough stock to administer even the second dose,” said Kishan Rao.
Shubham Chauhan, who hails from Unnao district in Uttar Pradesh, is eligible for vaccination under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare’s phase three vaccination campaign, but the district has not yet started vaccination for 18-plus.
“Those who are keen to get vaccinated are not getting slots for vaccination on C0-WIN. In our district, only those above forty five are eligible. But then they are hesitant to get vaccinated,” 27-year-old Chauhan, who lives in Nawabganj town of Unnao, told Gaon Connection.
“There are so many rumours regarding vaccines. Villagers think they might die if they get vaccinated. Even in my family, my father did not go for vaccination. He fears if he suffers from fever and gets sick then he might be admitted to a hospital. And hospitals are already in a poor condition,” said Chauhan.
Marut Nadar Sharan, a resident of Kaithi Bankat village in Aurangabad, Bihar told Gaon Connection that “recently, over one hundred people in my village were vaccinated. But after vaccination, a few people felt feverish. Seeing them, other villagers got scared. The next day, only thirty five people went for vaccination.”
Sharan also blamed the online registration process to be a reason why fewer people in rural areas are getting vaccinated. “Since the vaccine registration process is a little complex, villagers find it a little difficult to book a slot,” he said.
Public health experts also blame the online slot booking process for causing hindrances in vaccination drive in rural areas. “For the age group of 45 and above, people used to walk into the centres and get vaccinated. No such facility is available for 18 to 44 years of people. They have to go through a complex slot booking process,” Vikash R Keshri, public health and health policy expert based in Patna, Bihar, told Gaon Connection.
“Many in villages do not own a smartphone. How will they register themselves? There is no equitable distribution of vaccine doses in rural areas. The government needs to change its strategy for villages,” he added.
Whereas the central government and the Union Health Minister have been assuring that there is no vaccine shortage in the country, several states have pointed out stock out of the doses. On May 11, the central government appealed to the states to prioritise vaccinating those due for the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Since the administration of the second dose is of priority, the states are halting the vaccination of the people between the age group of 18 to 44 years.
From May 13, Karnataka government has suspended vaccination for people in the 18-44 age group.
On May 11, Maharashtra government too suspended the COVID-19 vaccination for the 18-44 age group due to a shortage of jabs.
About a hundred vaccination sites administering Covaxin to the 18-44 age group were shut by the Delhi government due to vaccine shortage.
In a press conference yesterday on May 17, Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia said that the Delhi government had vaccine stocks that will last for four days for people above the age of 45, while for those aged 18-44, stocks for only three days were left.
Meanwhile, Odisha too has been facing vaccine shortage. On May 12, the state government informed the central government that about 2.2 million people in Odisha were waiting for the second dose of the COVID19 vaccine.
In a virtual meeting with the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on May 12, the state’s health minister N K Das informed that Odisha was facing an acute shortage of vaccines and people were waiting to get their crucial second dose. Das went on to say that the state immediately required at least 2.5 million of Covishield vaccines to meet the requirement.
Aparna Sarkar, an ASHA [Accredited Social Health Activist] worker from Khairapali village of Malkangiri district, Odisha told Gaon Connection that owing to the shortage of vaccines, the vaccination centre in her village had been shut for the past three-four days.
“There are no doses in centres. The vaccination in our centres has been shut for the past one week. People are not hesitant to come but there are no vaccines. What can they do? Today [May 18], the stock might come. But I have received no information from the centre so far,” Sarkar told Gaon Connection.
Similar voices emerge from over 1,500 kilometres north-west of Malkangiri in Rajasthan’s Sirohi district.
“There is a huge vaccine shortage. We had five thousand doses with us for eighteen plus. We have consumed it in two days,” Rajesh Kumar, chief medical health officer of Sirohi district, told Gaon Connection on May 13. “We have been given seven thousand doses for people above forty five years, which will be consumed by tomorrow [May 14],” he added.
Kumar went on to inform that “vaccination for eighteen plus had been closed from today [May 13]. We do not know when we will get more doses. There is no fixed criteria.”
Last week, on May 11, Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin vaccine, said that “There has been an unprecedented demand for our vaccine, and in spite of increasing production every month, we are unable to keep up with the demand.”
In a virtual meeting on May 11, health minister Vardhan said India’s vaccine production is likely to reach 80 million doses in May and 90 million doses in June.
Bharat Biotech is also set to raise the production of Covaxin to 33.2 million doses in July and 78.2 million in August. Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield vaccine, aims at increasing the production up to 100 million doses in August.
“The government has given money to both brands. It will require time for manufacturing. It is not like buying vegetables from the market. There is a limitation in vaccine production. Licence has been given to other brands as well, but it would take a few months to come into market,” said Rao.