Faced with a supply squeeze for COVID-19 vaccines, the Kerala government has virtually stopped taking new registration COVID-19 vaccinations on the Cowin website, and is reserving most of the stocks for providing the second dose to those who have already taken the first.
The state has been forced to more or less abandon the central-government’s Cowin portal as a way to schedule vaccination, as there is no way to limit scheduling to those who need the second dose.
The government has instead asked everyone who requires a second dose to approach their nearest vaccination center directly, instead of relying on the Cowin portal.
Kerala has so far vaccinated around 75 lakh people over the last two months. Out of this, only around 12 lakhs have got both doses of the vaccines.
The remaining 60 lakh-plus citizens have to be provided COVID vaccines over the next six weeks, which will require 60 lakh doses, or 1 lakh doses per day.
However, there is currently no visibility on when new doses will become available.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said this week there has been no firm commitment yet from vaccine manufacturers on when they can start delivering the 1 crore vaccines that the government has demanded.
Other states, such as Maharasthra, have reportedly been told that they might have to wait till the second half of May to start getting fresh supplies of vaccines from the manufacturers.
As such, states have been forced to ration whatever vaccines they have to those who need it the most, and in this situation, Kerala has decided to prioritize those who are awaiting their second dose over those who have not taken their first dose.
The government recently increased the recommended gap between the first and the second dose of Covishield vaccine from four weeks to ‘six to eight weeks’.
As such, if a person who has taken the first dose does not get the booster dose before eight weeks are over, the vaccine will become far less effective than if he or she were to get it between the sixth and eight week.
Besides Kerala, nearly all other states too have been forced to take drastic steps in view of the vaccine scarcity. Some states like Maharashtra and Karnataka have decided not to offer vaccines yet to those below 45 years of age.
SECOND WAVE IMPACT
India is facing a vaccine shortage as the government did not expect the COVID-19 pandemic to return this year.
As of February and early March, citizens were not showing a lot of interest in taking the vaccination due to declining COVID-19 cases in India. As such, the government too did not ask the vaccine makers to ramp up manufacturing.
However, with the pandemic coming back in the form of a second wave, more and more people are interested in taking the vaccine.
However, the vaccine manufacturers are unable to cater to the sudden surge in demand, leading to the current scarcity.
The Centre has given around Rs 5,000 cr to vaccine manufacturers to help them ramp up production. It has also okayed the import of Russia-made Sputnik V vaccine, as well as allowed local pharma companies to manufacture the vaccine.