Rajat Sharma

Covid Pandemic: How Russia will provide 85 crore Sputnik V vaccines to India

akb fullThe surge continues. Records of Covid deaths and fresh cases are being broken every day. On Thursday, India recorded 3,86,452 new Covid cases, fast reaching towards the 4-lakh mark. The official death count on Thursday was 3,498 taking the cumulative death toll to 2,08,330. There has been no let up in the grave crisis created due to shortage of oxygen, ventilators and hospital beds, despite discharge of 2,97,540 patients in the last 24 hours.

I spoke to several medical experts but nobody could definitely say when the peak would show a decline, and if the second wave subsides, nobody can say whether there will be a third wave or not. Already, Maharashtra government has alerted its doctors to be prepared to face a ‘third wave’. The nation is presently focused more on spreading the vaccination coverage to the optimum.

Till Friday morning, 2.45 crore people registered their names for vaccination drive on the CoWin app for Phase 3. India’s cumulative vaccination coverage has exceeded 15.22 crore. Over 19 lakh Covid tests were done in the last 24 hours. The problem now is: where will India get so many doses to vaccinate its population above the age of 18 years? They constitute 91 crore out of India’s total population of 135 crore. A total of 180 crore doses will be needed to give double dose to roughly 91 crore people above the age of 18 years. In the last three months, the Centre sent 16.16 crore doses to the state governments. Till now, 15.22 crore doses have been administered. The state governments have roughly one crore doses in their stocks, while the Centre is going to send 20 lakh doses in the next three days. But how will the Centre arrange roughly 100 crore doses in the coming months? All ways and avenues are being explored.

Russia is going to provide 85 crore Sputnik V doses, according to some news reports. The Russian Direct Investment Fund has entered into contracts with five Indian companies for manufacturing 85 crore doses of the vaccine. From early May, Sputnik V vaccine doses will be given to Indians on a large scale. Sputnik V got the emergency use authorization from the Subject Experts Committee of the Government of India on April 12, making it the third vaccine to be approved for use in India. The first supply of 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh Sputnik V doses will be reaching India in the first week of May. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the vaccination issue early this week. The first batch of Sputnik V doses will arrive in India in bulk and then the Indian partner, Dr Reddy’s, will put the doses in separate vials for distribution. The first batch will come from Russia, while the remaining batches will be manufactured in India. Like other vaccines, Sputnik V has to be taken in two doses with 21 days’ gap.

Due to depleting stocks of Covid vaccines, vaccination had to be stopped in several places of Mumbai on Thursday. At the NESCO vaccination centre in Mumbai on Thursday, stocks ran out early in the morning, and hundreds of people had to return empty handed. At some other centres, two km long serpentine queues were noticed with people waiting for their turn, standing in heat. There were scuffles with health workers on Thursday, and police had to intervene, after a staff came out and announced that there were no stocks left. The same was the scene at Rajawadi hospital in Mumbai. Late on Thursday evening, BMC announced suspension of vaccination drive for three days, from April 30 till May 2, due to depleting stocks.

Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Punjab governments have announced they will not be able to launch the universal vaccination drive for all above the age of 18 years from May 1, due to very low stocks. In Panchkula, Punjab, even people above the age of 45 years are unable to get themselves vaccinated. All these four states are being run by non-BJP parties. It would be better if they cooperated with the Centre, start the drive on a small scale, and then speed it up as and when the stock position improves.

Uttar Pradesh government has already ordered import of one crore vaccine doses to deal with the shortage. It has announced that it would symbolically launch the universal vaccination drive in the state from May 1.

Meanwhile, medical oxygen production in India has increased by 67 per cent in the last nine days. At the ground level, however, there is still acute shortage of oxygen. In Meerut, 21 patients have died recently because of lack of oxygen in hospitals. Relatives of Covid patients are scouting for refilling their oxygen cylinders, but most of them had to return empty handed. There were long queues of people waiting for refilling their oxygen cylinders outside an oxygen plant in Greater Noida. The supply of medical oxygen is acute in UP, Delhi, Haryana and Maharashtra. Covid patients are unable to get hospital beds and ventilators.

There are indications that the supply of oxygen and hospital beds will improve in the coming days only if the surge in fresh Covid cases is brought under control. The Centre and states, along with help from the armed forces and railways, are trying their best to augment supply of medical oxygen. Let all of us hope for the best.

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