Air India Cancels Vaccination Drive Amid Shortages

Air India has been forced to cancel its employee vaccine drive this week due to supply shortages. The camp was planned for Tuesday and Thursday at Delhi Airport but was yanked at the last minute. The cancelations could mean Air India misses its target of inoculating its entire staff by the end of May.

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One Air India pilots union threatened to stop flying if the airline did not set up vaccine camps immediately. Photo: Getty Images

Canceled

According to Business Standard, Air India told its employees late on Monday that the drive would not be held on the 11th or 13th as announced. The reason was that “government authorities have expressed inability to hold these camps due to non-availability of vaccines.” The drive was set up at the Air India GSD facility at Delhi Airport.

Air India has not set a fresh date for the vaccine drive either, stating that it will do so as soon as it secures more vaccines. The move comes as India faces a dire vaccine shortage that has seen daily shots slump in recent days.

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Airlines globally have set up vaccine drives to get their staff vaccinated as early as possible. Photo: Getty Images

These delays will mean that Air India is at risk of missing its self-imposed deadline of the end of May to offer shots to all of its employees. Since vaccinations are unlikely to begin until next week, this would leave only two weeks to reach the roughly 10,000-strong staff. Considering logistical hurdles and shortages, this seems like a difficult task.

The sudden cancelation is sure to draw the ire of Air India unions as well. Last week, one pilot’s union threatened to stop flying if the airline did not provide vaccination camps to all staff. They stressed the crucial role airline crews played during the pandemic and the risk they face flying during the second wave.

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The vaccine situation in India

As India finds itself in the grips of a devastating second wave, the demand for vaccines has gone up dramatically. However, the monthly supply of vaccines remains the same at around 60-70 million doses/month. This supply-demand mismatch has stressed the vaccine supply chain, which can barely keep up with the growing need.

Unlike other countries, India’s vaccine production is all done domestically. This since the world’s largest vaccine maker, Pune-based Serum Institute India, and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech both manufacture within the country. This also means India cannot import more vaccines from foreign manufacturers currently.

Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine Covishield
India is vaccinating using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield) and Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN. Photo: Getty Images

Booking a slot to get a vaccine has become a game of fastest-finger-first, with slots opening up the night before. This has meant many large organizations (like Air India and others) have been unable to procure the hundreds of doses needed to vaccine their employees.

The coming weeks will see supply bottlenecks ease and more vaccines reaching citizens, allowing millions more to receive their shots. For now, Air India employees are hoping they will be one of those lucky ones.

What do you think about Air India’s decision to cancel its vaccine rollout? Let us know in the comments!

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