India Covid-19 cases are on the rise, vaccination is accelerating

A beneficiary will be vaccinated by health personnel during a pan-India Covid-19 vaccination ride at Aundh District Hospital, January 16, 2021 in Pune, India.

Pratham Gokhale | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

India reported more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases over a 24-hour period for the third time this week, as South Asia’s most populous country continues its vaccination campaign.

According to government data, 126,789 new cases were reported on Thursday. More than 80% of those cases came from ten states, including the hard-hit western state of Maharashtra, home to India’s financial capital, Mumbai.

As of the beginning of April, India has reported more than 779,000 cases, of which Maharashtra is responsible for just over half.

Local authorities in Maharashtra have stepped up restrictions, including curfews where only essential services can remain open. Other states are also preemptively raising restrictions as concerns grow about a possible shortage of hospital beds and doctors.

Shortage of vaccines

India’s massive vaccination campaign, which began in January, has accelerated in recent weeks. As of April, anyone over the age of 45 will be eligible for their shots. Government data showed that more than 90 million vaccine doses were administered on Thursday.

But the media reported this week that several states, including Maharashtra, have warned that vaccine supplies are running out at a crucial time where cases are rapidly increasing.

In response, the Indian government accused some states, including Maharashtra, of diverting attention from not being able to control the virus outbreak.

“Stocks of vaccines are monitored in real time and state governments are regularly informed about them,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in a statement on Wednesday. “Allegations of vaccine deficiency are completely unfounded.”

Correct distribution needed

According to Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and a member of the Government of India’s Covid-19 task force, India produces enough vaccines per month to inoculate people over 45.

“These vaccines are manufactured and there is sufficient supply on a monthly basis. The problem is that they have to be distributed regularly to all areas and when states start distributing, they have to make sure there is fair distribution depending on demand,” Guleria said Thursday on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”

“In terms of actual numbers, if you do the (math) the shortage isn’t there, it’s the distribution that has to be done the right way,” he said.

Guleria added that the situation in Maharashtra and in some other states is such that some areas have high vaccine intake and others are reluctant to vaccinate and stock is lying around.

Serum Institute’s ‘stressed’ production capacity

But the Serum Institute of India, which manufactures one of the country’s two approved vaccines – the AstraZeneca Injection, known locally as Covishield – takes a different view.

Serum Institute boss Adar Poonawalla told Indian media that the company’s manufacturing capacity is “very stressed”. He said the vaccine maker will need about $ 400 million to ramp up capacity by June.

He revealed to the Business Standard that AstraZeneca Serum Institute had sent legal notice for delays in delivering vaccines abroad. In February, Poonawalla said his company had been mandated to prioritize India’s vaccine needs and asked foreign governments to be patient.

Guleria said other manufacturers who make vaccines are being tapped to ramp up production. He added that India could soon approve a third vaccine – the Russian-made Sputnik V, which will be produced by the pharmaceutical company Dr Reddy’s Laboratories.