Millions of Indians are at the risk of missing the deadline for their second COVID-19 jab due to short supply of vaccines.
According to the Health Ministry data, as on July 6, around 44 per cent of those in the 45-year and above age category of vaccine recipients eligible for the booster were yet to get the stipulated dose.
Around 22 per cent health care workers and 10 per cent frontline COVID warriors were also awaiting the second dose, as per the data furnished by the ministry.
According to the ministry’s revised guideline, a recipient of the Covishield vaccine is eligible to get the booster dose within 12 to 16 weeks of getting the first dose. In case of Covaxin, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)-recommended waiting period is four weeks.
In absolute numbers, the backlog would be in lakhs across the country as West Bengal alone would require over 40 lakh vaccines to meet its second-dose requirement this month, according to a state health department official.
He said around 18 lakh people would be entitled for the second dose of Covishield by July 31 only in Kolkata.
The state received only around 40 lakh vaccines in June. The crunch was not felt so acutely then as the requirement for the second dose was not so high.
The demand went up in the last week of June after the completion of an extended window period of 12-16 weeks for the second dose of Covishield. There was hardly any requirement for a second dose of Covishield in May due to the extension of the gap between two doses.
Considering this huge mismatch between demand and supply, state chief secretary Hari Krishna Dwivedi last week directed all district administrations to prioritize administering of second dose, according to health department officials.
“From the beginning of this month we have been giving priority to the second dose. From Saturday (July 10), the number of second-dose recipients has been further enhanced to over 50 per cent of the total inoculation in the state,” said a senior official of the health department who did not wish to be named.
Of the 2,37,821 people vaccinated on July 10, the number of booster dose recipients was 1,55, 810. Similarly on July 11 out of 2,11,283 people who were administered the vaccine, 1,40,580 people got the second dose.
Till July West Bengal has vaccinated over 2.38 crore people. Of them more than 1.75 crore got the first dose while around 63.20 lakh people got the second dose, according to the health department’s figure.
To clear the backlog, many of the Covid vaccination centres have been administering only a second dose from Friday, the official added.
The ramp up will not be enough to clear the entire backlog due to dearth of supply, the official said, adding the situation has been further aggravated after the change of Covid vaccine procurement policy for private hospitals with effect from July 1.
As per the new policy, all private hospitals have been directed to procure the vaccines only through the CoWIN portal instead of procuring directly from the manufactures.
Most of the private hospitals had placed orders for their July requirements prior to the change of policy. The hospitals now needed to place fresh orders through the government-run portal as their direct order has been cancelled.
“We have now placed a fresh order. But we are not expecting the consignment to reach us before August. Until we get the fresh supply, the vaccination programme at out hospital will remain suspended,” said Dr Pinaki Mukherjee of the Kasturi Medical Research Centre Pvt Ltd in Kolkata.
The private vaccination centres meet 15 to 20 per cent of the vaccination requirement of the states. Many of these centres, like the one run by the Kasturi, were now forced to stop vaccination.
While there is no data available on the efficacy of Covaxin beyond four to six weeks, a new study of the Oxford University claimed that a longer gap between the first and second doses of its AstraZeneca vaccine or Covishield will not compromise a person’s immune response.
A “booster” jab more than six months after the second dose further strengthened immunity, including against existing variants, the study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, claimed.