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In April, as India grappled with a lethal second wave of Covid, Russian-manufactured Sputnik V became the third prong of India’s vaccination trident. All told, 35 million doses of the two-dose vaccine were to enter the Indian market starting in May. But its commercial roll-out by Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, the vaccine’s brand custodian in India, still hasn’t happened.

The delay is symptomatic of India’s Covid vaccination drive thus far, which has proven to be a case of over-promising and under-delivering. In May, Vinod Paul, the head of government think tank Niti Aayog’s health vertical, made a grand declaration grand declaration The Ken Covid task force lets get real on vaccines Read more — 2.1 billion Covid vaccine doses would be procured between August and December. 

Not even a month later, India’s health ministry rolled back this claim. In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, it cut this estimate by a third. The new estimate was 1.35 billion doses. Even this watered down figure, however, is proving difficult to fulfil.

Already, India’s domestic Covid vaccine manufacturers have faltered on their commitments. Serum Institute of India (SII), which manufactures Covishield, and Bharat Biotech, which produces Covaxin, have collectively delivered half a million doses fewer than they were supposed to between March and May. The supply situation for July looks bleak, too, according to Health Ministry numbers accessed by The Ken

Shortage spillover

On 21 June, India administered 9 million doses in a single day. Since this high, the daily vaccination coverage has spiralled downwards. On 6 July, only 3.5 million doses were meted out

In its Supreme Court affidavit, India’s health ministry also removed a host of candidates from its vaccine bucket. In its revised estimates, SII-manufactured Covovax, Bharat Biotech’s nasal vaccine, and Gennova’s mRNA vaccine were nowhere to be found. Jabs from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, remain out of reach as the multinational pharma majors are pushing for indemnity indemnity The Times of India Indemnity issue holds up jabs Read more  in case of adverse events caused by their vaccines.

Sputnik was meant to be a stop-gap, papering over the gap between the Indian government’s lofty promises and the on-ground shortfall of vaccines. However, the 250 million doses that Dr Reddy’s had signed up for with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) are still a speck in the distance. Of the 35 million-odd doses that Dr Reddy’s expected to import by May, only a few hundred thousand have come in, trickling in at a snail’s pace.


Maitri Porecha

Maitri writes about everything health for The Ken. For close to 10 years now, she has navigated hospital corridors in her search for a good story. In a past life, when she was not a journalist, she used to teach French at her neighbourhood school. Also an avid fan of forensics, she is always up for decoding mysteries in her free time.

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