The number of Covaxin doses supplied by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech is still shrouded in mystery, even though an affidavit that the Central government filed in the Supreme Court last week clearly showed that the firm has slipped on its timelines several times in the past.
Covaxin is India’s indigenously-developed Covid-19 vaccine, which along with Covishield, produced by Serum Institute of India, Pune, with a manufacturing agreement with AstraZeneca, is the mainstay of India’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, expected to cover the adult population by December this year. At one place in the affidavit, the Centre claimed that it received a total of 8 crore doses of Covaxin, and in another place, it said the quantity of Covaxin received by the government till June 21 was only 2.82 crore.
In addition to this, State governments procured a total of 48.5 lakh doses of Covaxin and another 27.11 lakh by private hospitals directly from the company in May, said the affidavit.
Giving the details of purchase orders given to vaccine manufacturers, including Bharat Biotech, the affidavit said that while the Hyderabad firm supplied 1 crore vaccine doses ordered on January 10, it had faltered on delivering the full quantity of 2 crore vaccine doses that it was supposed to supply in March and May. It is still to deliver over 18 lakh doses of Covaxin bought under the March 12 purchase order.
More significantly, Bharat Biotech has not even started delivering vaccines, as per the May 5 purchase order, under which the government placed an order for 5 crore Covaxin doses. As per the agreement, the firm was to deliver vaccines in a staggered manner between May and July. Not a single dose of vaccine from this lot has been delivered by Bharat Biotech yet even though two months have passed by.
Bharat Biotech did not respond even though these questions were posed to them multiple time
“It was not just Bharat Biotech that has been giving us inflated production numbers, it is also the government,” said a Malini Aisola, public health activist based in Delhi.
“In the last affidavit, the government said Bharat Biotech produces 9 million doses a month. Possibly, the firm may have started producing the 9 million doses only now. Even then the numbers are not adding up. On an average, the production could not have exceeded 6 million a month. Why can’t the company and the government give the month-wise production data,” Aisola asked.
In spite of the fact that Bharat Biotech has not supplied the amount of doses it promised, the government has placed a huge contract of 19 crore doses with the firm to be supplied between August and December.
In the affidavit, the government put on record that 40 crore doses of Covaxin will become available for the Covid-19 vaccination programme between August and December.
This would mean a steep increase to 80 million doses a month from around 9-10 million doses now.
Bharat Biotech has been given funds by the government to expand its production capacity not just in Hyderabad, but also at its plants in Ankaleshwar in Gujarat and another in Karnataka. But the firm has been mum on how much Covaxin can be produced there and from when, she said.
Similarly, Bharat Biotech has transferred the technology to a few state-owned firms, including Hyderabad-based Indian Immunologicals Limited, but not much is known when the vaccine produced there would be available for use.