Why COVID-19 vaccines should be free for all in India

People stand in a queue as they wait to get a dose of the Covishield vaccine against COVID-19 during a vaccination drive at a civil hospital in Jind, in the northern state of Haryana, on June 1, 2021. Money Sharma/AFP via Getty Images

Over 414,000 daily cases

India has recently seen a devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a record high of over 414,000 daily cases on May 6, 2021. Although this figure has since declined, officials are still currently recording over 132,000 cases of COVID-19 every day.

In May, the editors of The Lancet suggested this was partly due to complacency from the Indian national government. For the editors, “the impression from the government was that India had beaten COVID-19 after several months of low case counts, despite repeated warningsTrusted Source of the dangers of a second wave and the emergence of new strains.”

“Modeling [falsely] suggested that India had reached herd immunity, encouraging complacency and insufficient preparation, but a serosurvey by the Indian Council of Medical Research in January suggested that only 21% of the population had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.”

Dr. Manju Rahi, of the Indian Council of Medical Research, and Dr. Amit Sharma, of the ICMR-National Institute of Malaria Research, both in New Delhi, the authors of the present opinion piece, highlight the key issues surrounding the failure of adequate planning and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines.

For Dr. Rahi and Dr. Sharma, “inadequate vaccination planning coupled with suboptimal pandemic management has led to a large burden of cases and deaths.”

India has authorized three COVID-19 vaccines:

  • Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech
  • Covishield, developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca
  • Sputnik V, developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Russia.

Despite this, insufficient production of the vaccines and inadequate planning means the country has a significant shortfall of vaccines. Currently, only around 12.5% of the Indian population has been fully vaccinated by June 2.

In response, the country has authorized vaccines that have received authorization in other countries, even if they have not gone through clinical trials in India. However, more efforts are required if a significant number of the population is to receive the jab.

Dr. Rahi and Dr. Sharma call attention to some of the key issues that have contributed to this low rate of vaccination and, consequently, the significant second wave the country has experienced.

Vaccine production

The two experts highlight that the production capacity of the country needs significant improvement. India has a population of 1.3 billion people. However, before May, manufacturers were producing only around 10 million doses of Covaxin and 70 million doses of Covishield per month.

The rollout of Sputnik V will contribute to the number of vaccines available. However, Dr. Rahi and Dr. Sharma say that more vaccine sources will be necessary if India is to vaccinate its population within a year.

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