Indian states offer lessons in how to squeeze out more vaccine shots out of each vial

Special skills.
Special skills.
Image: REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo
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India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive is chequered with shortages and poor planning. But some states have bucked the national trend.

While several Indian states have reported wastages up to almost 10% of their doses, states like Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Goa, Mizoram, and Kerala have recorded negative wastage. In essence, these states have administered more vaccine doses than they received from the central government.

This may seem like a data anomaly given that each vial has a finite number of vaccine shots. But there’s nothing that the efficiency of highly skilled nurses and healthcare workers cannot achieve.

According to Kerala’s chief minister, the state was able to administer nearly 90,000 additional doses from the stock it had received. Trained nurses from Kerala are the backbone of India’s healthcare system, and in some cases, even in countries abroad.

This is a significant boon given the dire vaccine shortages in India, and the manufacturers’ inability to keep up with demand for India’s liberalised vaccination drive. The country, on May 1, opened up Covid-19 vaccination to everyone over the age of 18, creating a sudden surge in demand that is yet to be fulfilled.

Prime minister Narendra Modi, too, thinks this achievement needs to be feted.

So far, states like Lakshadweep and Tamil Nadu have reported 8-10% vaccine wastage, the highest in the country. A state like Uttar Pradesh, which has the lion’s share of India’s vaccine doses at over 229 million doses, has wasted 3.5% of its doses. By the government’s own estimates in March, the national average for vaccine wastage was 6.5%.

One way to address the issue of vaccine wastage is for local primary healthcare centres to reach out to unvaccinated residents when they see that vials are going to waste. But currently, India has no process to re-allocate vaccine doses without prior appointments or registrations. This was a system that countries like the US used by empowering local clinics, which likely may happen in India once there are enough doses available for small clinics and dispensaries.