INDIA: Scam or a curious case of self-vanishing vaccines?

By Avinash Pandey

A massive vaccine shortage amidst the second wave of the Covid 19 pandemic ravaging the country and clocking a 3,000 plus daily death toll for almost a month is forcing many states to stop vaccination for the population aged under 44. The shortage, coupled with repeated increase in the gap between the two mandatory doses of the Covershield, the local name for the World Health Organisation approved Oxford and AstraZenca’s vaccine, has left many who got their first dose in an endless, often traumatising wait. The extent of the crisis can be easily understood by the fact that the External Affairs Minister of India, Mr. S. Jaishankar is currently visiting the United States of America to secure more vaccines for the country. Ironically, this is almost an impossible task and a mere photo op given the prior commitments of almost all vaccine makers leaving no room for any early despatch for vaccines to India anytime soon.

Bafflingly, the data from the country shows an inexplicable mismatch in total production of the jabs in the country and their administration. It is also giving rise to serious questions about the vaccines that are seemingly disappearing on their own!

The mismatch first became known on 24 May, 2021 when the Union Government told the Kerala High Court in an affidavit that the actual vaccination in the country was 57% below production. The daily production of the vaccines in the country stood at about 2.83 million as against only 1.2 to 1.3 million doses being administered per day. It is evident from the numbers that only 43% of the doses produced in the country a day are reaching the people with no account of the remaining 43%!

The Union Government had then informed the Court that India was producing 85 million doses of both Covid vaccines approved in India. The vaccines are Oxford Astrazeneca’s WHO approved vaccine locally manufactured and known as Covishield by Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin which is still seeking WHO approval for emergency use. Of these, the government claimed, Serum Institute was producing 6.5 million a month while Bharat Biotech produced 2 million. The government also told the court that both were ramping up the production.

Bharat Biotech’s own statements also corroborated the claims in the affidavit. Back in April, Krishna Ella, the company’s CMD had asserted that the company had produced 15 million doses of the vaccine in March, would produce 20 million in April and would further ramp it up to 30 million in May.

Unfortunately, the Court did not grill the government on the mismatch then though it should have and asked the government what washappening to the rest of the jabs!

The facts have just got even murkier by the revelation that Bharat Biotech did produce at least 85 million doses of Covaxin but the data shows that only 20 million of the same have been administered. Even if one takes into account the export (and also sale) of about 6.6 million vaccines to other countries under the ill-fated Vaccine Matri (vaccine friendship) diplomacy of the government of India from January to March, numbers do not add up. To begin with, most of the exports of the vaccine consisted of Covishield as it had already secured WHO’s Emergency Use Approval unlike Covaxin for which there were few takers. Till date, only 11 countries have given approval to the use of Covaxin. They include Iran, Philippines, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal, Guyana, Paraguay, Zimbabwe and, of course, India.

In any case, hit by the second wave itself, the government of India had cut down on the export of vaccines at the end of March promising to ramp it up in a ‘phased manner’. Since then, the official position of the government of India has remained the same that it has not banned the exports. It is just that the world media is buying none of that and calling it a ban outright- as evidenced by this DW story titled Africa scrambles as India vaccine export ban bites region.

That said, it is apparent that India had hardly exported any vaccines after March so there is no way that Covaxin doses could have been exported. What then, could explain the inexplicable mismatch between production and administration of vaccines?

The world is getting increasingly anxious about India, and it is not only about the second wave ravaging the country. International Media, governments, business and civil society, all have been asking uncomfortable questions from the Indian authorities on a myriad of issues ranging from the country’s pandemic situation to the growing attacks on the rights in the countries. It is not for nothing that India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in USA for procuring vaccines for India, was asked about “Hindutva Policies” (right wing majoritarian politics that often gets violent against marginalised communities including minorities) in Battlegrounds series of virtual conversations hosted by former US national security adviser HR iMcMaster for Hoover Institution of Stanford University. That someone with a fair idea of contemporary world order could even think of asking that question to EAM of a country battling pandemic should be warning enough for the government of the country.

The fact that this scepticism is coupled with serious doubts regarding official data on the pandemic should force it into immediate action. Rubbishing The New York Times estimation of the actual Covid toll of India being at least twice the official toll and more than 10 times (4.2 million!!!) is easy, it would not help India’s case internationally though.

The government of India must immediately put its act together and answer all the uncomfortable questions with honesty. It can begin with answering where the 40 million Covaccine doses disappeared. It must, as it has serious implications for the country’s capacity to import vaccines from other countries amidst a global shortage hitting the poorest countries the hardest. If India chooses to wait for someone else asking, why should we give you vaccines when your own are vanishing into thin air, it would be catastrophic for the country’s health care system already bursting at the seams!

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About the Author: Mr. Avinash Pandey, alias Samar is Programme Coordinator, Right to

Food Programme, AHRC. He can be contacted at

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-031-2021
Countries : India,
Issues : Inhuman & degrading treatment, Right to health, Right to life,