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Modi’s “liberalised and accelerated” vaccination drive is neither of those things

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REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee
"Transparent, liberalised and accelerated."
  • Itika Sharma Punit
By Itika Sharma Punit

Co-editor, Quartz India

Published Last updated on

Indians are “dropping dead like flies” and the one thing that the government had promised—perhaps the only thing that can save the country right now—has proven to be nothing more than a farce.

On April 19, around two weeks after the disastrous second wave of Covid-19 picked up pace in India, the Narendra Modi government calmed many nerves by announcing a “transparent, liberalised and accelerated” phase 3 of its vaccination drive that would make all Indian adults eligible to get the jab.

Over the last 10 days, even as the number of new cases rose sharply—at over 379,000 on April 28—and thousands of Indians lost their lives as they ran from pillar to post in search of medicines and doctors, there was a ray of hope that come April 28, the registration for phase 3 will open, and the crisis will be brought under control.

Turns out, it was just the government dangling carrots in front of the hopeful.

As millions of Indians flocked to the government’s Co-WIN website on April 28 with hopes to schedule their vaccination appointments, most were expecting technical glitches (which did happen) or difficulty in finding slots due to the rush. But they were in for a much bigger shock: What the government has opened up for all adults is just the registration for Co-WIN, a website for registering vaccine beneficiaries and scheduling appointments.

All that this registration means is that many Indian adults—8 million as per the government—have now shared their data with one more government website. In terms of getting vaccinated, everyone is right where they were a day ago.

The slots to get a dose will open only once state governments procure vaccines. And given the acute shortage of doses, that could take days, weeks, or even months.

While experts had speculated that this might be the case, the public at large was left baffled. After all, the Indian health minister in his announcement on April 19 thanked Modi so profusely, it seemed obvious that the prime minister would be responsible for arranging vaccines for the entire country.

“Modi fooled you again today,” a politician joked. Many others took to Twitter to express their astonishment.

When will I get a vaccine?

Until more vaccine makers start selling to India, getting the jab will be out of reach for most Indians, even if they’re eligible as per the Modi government.

As of now, only two vaccines are available in the country: Covishield, the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India by the Serum Institute of India (SII), and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin that has been developed in collaboration with the Indian Council for Medical Research.

SII has been running behind on delivery schedules for a while now. On April 8, AstraZeneca even sent a legal notice to SII for delays in deliveries.

This shortfall exists despite the fact that India’s vaccination drive has so far been pretty sluggish. The country has to date fully vaccinated only about 25 million people, which is less than 10% of the 300 million it aims to inoculate by August. The pace of vaccination in India has dropped drastically from 3.5 million doses a day in March to around 2.5 million now, likely due to shortages in supply.

The new phase will add another layer of complexity that could delay vaccinations further.

With the new rules introduced only about 10 days ago, many state governments have promised to procure vaccines for their citizens, but there are not many who have said anything about placing orders with SII or Bharat Biotech.

It will be a tough battle between the states as vaccine makers are allowed to sell only up to 50% of their supply to state governments while they have to sell half of their output to the Modi government. States will also need to spend more as SII will be selling to them at Rs300 ($4) a shot, double of the Rs150 is charging to the centre.

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