Even as the effort to induce Covid-appropriate behaviour in the population at large intensifies, it is vital to increase the supply of vaccine doses exponentially. India is vaccinating about three million people a day. That might appear impressive. However, if two-thirds of the population, that is, 900 million people, have to acquire immunity to make it difficult for the virus to spread in the community, and assuming that vaccines have an average efficacy of 80%, the number of people to be inoculated is 1,125 million. That many doses have to be produced for the first round of vaccination. At the current rate of vaccination, that will take one year and 10 days. That is not good enough.
Vaccine doses are required for the rest of the world as well. If the virus continues to proliferate among the unvaccinated populations, more and more mutant strains would emerge, against some of which the available vaccines might be impotent. And these strains would travel through the physical links of globalisation to render the vaccinated populations vulnerable to reinfection. The need is for exponential increase in vaccine output from the current levels of 65-70 million doses a month. The supply of vaccines can be increased by giving emergency authorisations for new candidate vaccines, issuing compulsory licences for local production of vaccines such as the one from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax to multiple producers, and fast-tracking approvals for new production facilities. Issues such as the cold storage management plan that has reportedly held up approval of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine must be sorted out.
The government must help manufacturers with expanding production capacity. Faster clearances are imperative for production facilities such as the Bharat Biotech proposal to repurpose an existing animal vaccine facility for manufacturing Covaxin. The government should also ensure the supply of input material for vaccines. To this end, it must engage with the US to lift export restrictions on chemicals and kit.