Amid growing vaccine criticism, Indian union health minister claims govt working enough to secure Covid-19 vaccine

India is scrapping the local trials for foreign coronavirus vaccines that have been “well-established” in order to accelerate the vaccination rollout.

Five months after the Indian government rolled out “largest vaccination drive” against the novel Coronavirus infection, the government has come under criticism as the country faces vaccine shortage. A campaign built on a promise to vaccinate a large portion of the Indian subcontinent as well as vaccine diplomacy, seems to have faced a big speed bump. Vaccinating frontline/ healthcare workers, and those above the age of 45 years was going smoothly till the government opened vaccination for all adults. With a large chunk of population belonging above the age of 18 years, states witnessed shortage in vaccination.

Now comes the question, what went wrong? Why are the states or nation as a whole not able to vaccinate its population or why is there scarcity of vaccines in India. In a tweet by the Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vadhan, right now there is only one vaccine in India and that is Covaxin. “Ever since the Coronavirus pandemic broke out, the government is urging many companies to produce as many vaccines as they can. Right now, there is only one vaccine- Covaxin produced and three companies have agreed for production,” read the tweet.

The minister further said that the plant producing Covaxin in India is being increased to 4. Apart from this, Bharat Biotech was manufacturing one crore vaccine shots in a month. “And now, preparations are being made to ramp this monthly production to 10 crore a month,” Vardhan’s tweet said. The government is also trying to secure as many Sputnik-V vaccines as it can, he added.

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Vaccine Criticism
Earlier this month, the central government allowed state governments to float their own tenders for vaccination procurement within their states given the nationwide Covid-19 vaccine shortage.The Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government has been questioning this decision stating its not easy for states to procure vaccines by themselves. Kejriwal has also said that foreign manufacturers are not willing to deal with the state governments as they would rather come to an agreement with the central government for vaccine supply across the country.

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Many people in India took to social media as they were unable to receive vaccine jabs in many states due to unavailability of vaccines. In some places, a halt in vaccination of people between the age of 18 and 45 was also seen, questioning the management as well as procurement of vaccines.

Kaushik Basu, a former chief economic adviser to the government took to Twitter and said, “This is governance failure since India is one of the biggest vaccine producers.” He added that “good days” will be here; however, “the vaccine lapse will be remembered.” In fact, the medical journal The Lancet also criticised the government’s complacency when it comes to tackling the crisis.

Will foreign vaccine players come to rescue?
For months, the central government has been in talks with foreign vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna for vaccine supply but have not been able to reach an agreement. Recently, Reuters reported that India is scrapping the local trials for foreign coronavirus vaccines that have been “well-established” in order to accelerate the vaccination rollout.

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During the beginning of the vaccination drive in India, the government demanded complete trial data from foreign vaccine makers and expected a local trial for authorization of these vaccines. Albeit, building a coldchain for Pfizer and Moderna vaccine was an issue and it still is. However, given the severity of Covid-19 outbreak during the second wave, the government has decided to fast-track approvals for foreign vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna. The government, according to a Reuters report, said that the local trials for Pfizer were one of the key reasons that the approvals were stalled.

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Now, the Indian government has made provisions to waive the trial requirement. This will allow well-established vaccine manufacturers who have been helping other countries with Covid-19 vaccine to enter Indian market and inoculate the large Indian population.

To be sure, India in May has witnessed the worst impact of the Coronavirus pandemic across the globe with and recorded the highest death toll since March 2020. This called for an accelerated vaccination drive in India. So far, the country has managed to vaccinate only 3 per cent of its total 1.3 billion population. This is the lowest vaccination rate among the ten countries that have witnessed the highest number of viral cases.

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