New Delhi: Experts from the ICMR-National Institute of Malaria Research and the Indian Council of Medical Research, on Wednesday, slammed the government for poor planning of the home-grown vaccine production and deployment, as a result of which "India doesn't have enough vaccines to go around".
While there are plans to significantly ramp up production of the Covaxin and Covishield vaccines, the target to vaccinate around one billion people may still not be reached this year, the experts said in a commentary published in the online journal BMJ Global Health.
Only around 3 percent of the population has been inoculated till now.
The experts urged the government to expedite the approval of foreign vaccines already deployed elsewhere around the globe.
"As any protection conferred by Covid-19 vaccine is expected to take at least two weeks after both doses, and with large demands, India will require many more sources of vaccines in the coming days and weeks to stem the current uptick in infections," it said.
Further, to expand coverage, the government has allowed private hospitals to vaccinate, which charge anything from $3 to $15 (roughly Rs 220 to Rs 1,098), meaning very few people can afford it.
They urged the government to make vaccines against Coronavirus free for everyone in India, which will not only boost uptake but also curb the death toll from the infection.
On differential pricing of vaccines between Centre and states, the experts said it "is likely to be detrimental to public health at this time of grave crisis in India", creating inequitable distribution and potentially sparking public mistrust.
"For India to stem Covid-19, the nation cannot allow any differential approach for its residents."
The government-mandated pre-registration via a mobile app to create a vaccination records infrastructure for adults is also not feasible as only around a third of people in rural areas have an internet connection, the experts said.
Instead, a simple vaccination card may be a better option, they suggest.
Moreover, "the funding pledged by the government is far from adequate," the experts lamented, saying "this will be concerning in scenarios where a 3rd booster shot is required. Hence, India needs a corpus of funds for the above that covers all future eventualities of vaccine deployment," it said.
"India may need to reset its vaccine strategies, enhance the competence level of pandemic management and spur the bureaucratic machinery so that vaccine equity can be achieved in a very short span of time," it noted.