As the Covid-19 vaccination drive in India is set to open up for all people above 45 years from from April 1, the Centre has asked Bharat Biotech, the manufacturer of Covaxin, to “significantly raise its production capacity”, this newspaper has learnt.
Facing a supply issue of vaccines, the Centre has also constituted a panel to facilitate “capacity augmentation of domestic vaccines” manufactured for Covid-19. Of the 5,33,24,811 doses of vaccine administered in India so far, less than 50 lakh or 10% vaccine doses comprise Covaxin, the country’s first indigenous Covid-19 vaccine.
Top officials in the Health Ministry said nearly 8.7 crore doses of the two vaccines — largely Covishield developed by Oxford University-AstraZeneca has been sent to the states so far. But as the number of targeted beneficiaries has reached 34 crore now, the country needs 64 crore doses of vaccines for the priority population over the next few months. “This is an uphill task and unless Bharat Biotech steps up its production, it will be a big challenge,” an official said.
Officially, the government has been maintaining that there is no shortage of Covid-19 vaccines in India. Many officials in the ministry confirmed this newspaper that while SII’s production capacity as of now is 50-60 million, it is 10 million in the case of Bharat Biotech. “SII, however, has agreed to make 100 million doses, but then it also has export commitments,” said a source.
“Therefore, Covaxin cannot keep playing the second fiddle and will have to play a significant role in the immunisation drive,” the source added. It is for this reason that the government last week formed an inter-ministerial panel, drawing senior officials from many departments to find ways for vaccine makers to raise their capacity.
“The government has received requests from some small manufactures and also, a few state governments to convert other vaccine manufacturing units into Covid vaccine manufacturing units but this will require their conversion into higher standards of bio-safely levels,” a committee member said.