India began its mass vaccination drive in January 2021; it was a remarkable feat as India emerged as one of the world leaders in vaccine production. Once the vaccination program began, the Indian populace got a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. But a reply to an RTI recently filed blew the lid off the grim reality of any mass inoculation program- vaccine wastage. By April 11th, out of the 10 crore vaccine doses used by states, a whopping 44 lakh were wasted!
The moot point then becomes the ‘why’ behind this large-scale wastage of the most important resource during these sombre times. Wastage in unopened vials can occur due to six broad reasons: if the expiry date has been reached; if the vaccine is exposed to heat; If the vaccine is frozen; breakage; missing inventory and theft, and while discarding unused vials returned from the vaccination site.
On the other hand, wastage in opened vials can occur due to the following factors: while discarding remaining doses at the end of the session; not being able to draw the number of doses in a vial; submergence of opened vials in water; contamination (if any); and poor vaccine administration practices.
Whatever the reason, reports of vaccine wastage across several states of India have become rampant. Amid such reports, an RTI reply revealed higher nuances regarding the same; according to which, Tamil Nadu has witnessed the maximum wastage of vaccines. Out of the total COVID-19 vaccines allocated to the states, Tamil Nadu reported the highest wastage at 12.10%, next in line is Haryana (9.74%), followed by Punjab (8.12%), Manipur (7.8%), and Telangana (7.55%).
In all, 23% of vaccine doses were wasted across the Indian states by 11th April. Kerala, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Goa, Daman and Diu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep were among the states and union territories that reported ‘zero wastage’. The blame game which is revolving around vaccine wastage and therefore shortage has brought many state governments like state-wise Delhi, Maharashtra, and Punjab at loggerheads with the Centre. According to these states, the vaccine allocation to them is less in proportion to the populace compared to states like Gujarat!
Is a question worth asking is that why are certain states reporting higher wastage of the vaccine doses? The first reason identified by the Centre is the inadequate planning of sessions. For instance, if a vial contains 10 doses and only 4 people turn up to get vaccinated, 6 will naturally get wasted. The Centre has advised states to mobilize people and not to open the vial if enough people don’t come during that session.
Another factor spotted is inadequate training. Officials said that vaccinators are ending up drawing doses lesser than what can be drawn. Training is a crucial aspect to prevent vaccine wastage. Also, open vial policy guidelines have to be strictly followed by the states to minimize the number of doses that go to waste. Delhi Health Ministry fact sheet sent to all the states mandates that both Covaxin and Covishield have to be discarded after hours of opening.
Frequently, the Prime Minister and the Union Health Ministry have asked the states to reduce the number of vaccines getting wasted. The Health Ministry had also stated that the allocation will directly depend on the states’ performance. On April 19th, the ministry had said, “The government of India from its share will allocate vaccines to states and UTs based on the criteria of the extent of infection and performance. Wastage of vaccine will also be considered in these criteria and will affect the criteria negatively. Based on the above criteria, the state- wise quota would be decided and communicated to the states adequately in advance”.
In another major development associated with the pan- India anti- COVID-19 vaccination drive, the Centre on Monday announced the opening of the next and liberalized phase of vaccination from May 1st; through which every adult can get the jab. This open vaccination drive will not only make the youth of the country resilient to the Wuhan virus, but it will also mark an end of the brazen political intrigues of the non-BJP ruled states which continue to pass the buck to the Centre and accuse it of vaccine shortage in their states. All the stakeholders will be given the flexibility to customize to local needs and vaccine manufacturers will be further incentivized to scale up their production. Vaccine manufacturers will be able to release 50% of their supply to the state governments directly and in the open- market at a pre-declared price.
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