On a day when two of India's worst-hit states — Karnataka and Maharashtra — decided to halt the vaccination programme for 18 to 44 years of age group due to vaccine paucity, the Central Government claimed that India was the fastest country globally to reach the landmark of administering 17 crore doses in 114 days.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that the states should prioritise giving the second dose of vaccine to citizens above 45 years of age, over taking in new registrations. He also pointed out that while 13.66 crore people have been administered the first dose, the second dose has been administered to only 3.86 crore people.
This rationing of vaccine doses is an indication of the inadequacy of doses in circulation right now as various independent and government-backed studies have claimed that the variants prevalent in the second wave of the pandemic is also affecting the younger population as opposed to the trend noted during the first wave.
India saw a record rise in COVID-19 deaths with 4,205 fresh fatalities taking the country's death count to 2,54,197, while 3,48,421 new coronavirus infections were reported, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Wednesday.
The total tally of COVID-19 cases in the country now stands at 2,33,40,938. The active cases have reduced to 37,04,099 comprising 15.87 percent of the total infections, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate has improved to 83.04 percent, the data updated at 8 am showed.
The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 1,93,82,642 while the case fatality rate was recorded at 1.09 per cent, the data stated.
Meanwhile, the WHO has blamed the ferocity of the second wave on the holding of religious and political mass gatherings in the middle of the pandemic, among other factors.
Maharashtra suspends vaccination for 18-44, Delhi shuts centres amid paucity of shots
People in the 18-44 age group won't be able to get Covaxin shots in Delhi due to paucity, while Maharashtra and Karnataka have suspended shots for the age group from Thursday as the governments in these regions have decided to divert the available stock of doses for the above-45 age group. Delhi also shut around 100 vaccination centres after stocks depleted.
The vaccination for people between 18-44 years age group had started symbolically on 1 May but the third and final leg of the innoculation programme has been staggering since the start due to a paucity of stocks.
Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia attributed the decision to vaccine manufacturer Bharat Biotech's "refusal" to provide "additional" vaccine doses to the city government. Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope said that decision was taken after Serum Institute of India (SII) informed the state authorities it would be able to provide 1.5 crore Covishield vaccines to the state only after 20 May.
"There is no sufficient supply of vaccine vials by the Centre for inoculation of above-45 age group people. Hence, the state cabinet decided to divert the stock, purchased for the 18-44 age group, for the above-45 age group. Therefore, we are suspending the inoculation of 18-44 age group for some period," Tope said.
Sisodia said, "The Covaxin manufacturer has in a letter said that it cannot provide the Delhi government vaccines due to unavailability, under the instruction of government officials concerned. It means that the Central Government is controlling supply of the vaccine."
Sisodia accused the Centre of vaccine mismanagement and reiterated that exporting 6.5 crore doses to foreign countries was the "biggest mistake".
The Delhi government had ordered 67 lakh doses each of Covishield and Covaxin on 26 April, the deputy chief minister said.
However, Joint Secretary in the Union health ministry Lav Agarwal on Tuesday denied that the Centre had any role to play in the purchase of vaccines by the states.
On Tuesday, Tope had alleged that the Union government was not fulfilling its responsibility to provide adequate number of vaccine doses to states.
Tamil Nadu governments was the latest to announce global tenders for procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, while the Rajasthan government was also mulling a similar step.
Uttarakhand officials said the state will import 20 lakh doses of Sputnik vaccine over the next two months.
States like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Delhi have already opted for global tenders to meet their needs.
Amid demands to ramp up domestic supply, the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech have submitted to the Centre their production plan for the next four months, informing that they can scale it up to 10 crore and 7.8 crore doses, respectively, by August, official sources said.
Bharat Biotech joint managing director Suchitra Ella said the company has already dispatched Covaxin lots to 18 states on 10 May and said it was disheartening to listen to some states complaining about Bharat Biotech's intentions regarding the supply of COVID vaccine.
Covaxin dispatched 10/5/21.18 states have been covered thou in smaller shipments. Quite disheartening to the teams to hear Some states complaining about our intentions. 50 of our employees are off work due to covid, yet we continue to work under pandemic lockdowns 24x7 for U :flag-in: pic.twitter.com/FmQl4vtqXC
— suchitra ella (@SuchitraElla) May 11, 2021
The Odisha government informed the Centre that about 22 lakh people in the state are waiting for the second shot and therefore the state requires at least 25 lakh doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
The state's Health and Family Welfare Minister NK Das, who joined the virtual meeting with Vardhan, said that the state has been facing an acute shortage of vaccines.
Amid rising COVID-19 cases, Kerala also urged the Centre to provide more vaccines.
Chief Minister Pinaryi Vijayan underlined the need for prioritising the vaccination of those in the 18 to 45 age group from the vaccine ordered by the state as there is not enough stock for everyone to be vaccinated in one go.
It is noteworthy here that a parliamentary standing committee had in March suggested ramping up of production capacity of the two COVID-19 vaccines manufactured in India for ensuring their availability to a wider population after it was informed that there could be a "shortage" if the inoculation is opened beyond the priority groups.
With states facing a shortage of vaccines, the Congress, Shiv Sena and the AAP upped their attack on BJP, the ruling party at the Centre, and blamed the current situation on the export of vaccines to other countries early this year.
The ruling BJP, however, accused the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Wednesday of spreading misinformation on India's vaccination programme and said over 84 percent of the vaccine doses sent abroad were part of the commercial and licensing liabilities of the two Indian manufacturers.
Addressing a virtual press conference, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said 1.07 crore vaccine doses sent abroad were India's aid to different countries and noted that of those, 78.5 lakh were dispatched to seven neighbouring countries.
A safer neighbourhood is good for India too, he added
Meanwhile, leaders of 12 Opposition parties wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking a free mass vaccination campaign against coronavirus among other steps in the wake of the COVID crisis.
"Procure vaccines centrally from all available sources — global and domestic. Immediately begin a free, universal mass vaccination campaign across the country. Invoke compulsory licensing to expand domestic vaccine production. Spend budgetary allocation of Rs 35,000 crores for the vaccines," the leaders said in their letter.
The signatories to the joint letter include Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister and JD(S) leader HD Deve Gowda and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. Others include chief ministers Uddhav Thackeray (Shiv Sena), Mamata Banerjee (TMC), MK Stalin (DMK), and Hemant Soren (JMM).
Also on Wednesday, the Bombay High Court reiterated its earlier observation of 22 April in which it had asked the Union government to relook at its decision to not initiate a door-to-door vaccination.
Pandemic was preventable, claim experts; door-to-door vaccination could have saved lives, says Bombay HC
A study of the pandemic's progression, both in India and worldwide had spurred various experts to comment that while coronavirus spread was inevitable, the catastrophic face of the pandemic was avoidable if authorities around the globe had done a better job containing it.
An independent global panel today opined that the catastrophic scale of the COVID-19 pandemic could have been prevented with a timely warning, but a "toxic cocktail" of dithering and poor coordination meant the warning signs went unheeded.
The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) said a series of bad decisions meant COVID-19 went on to kill at least 3.3 million people so far and devastate the global economy.
Institutions "failed to protect people" and science-denying leaders eroded public trust in health interventions, the IPPPR said in its long-awaited final report.
Early responses to the outbreak detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019 "lacked urgency", with February 2020 a costly "lost month" as countries failed to heed the alarm, said the panel.
Meanwhile in India, which is facing the worst of the second wave right now, the Bombay High Court made an observation that said that had the Union government started door-to-door vaccination programme for senior citizens a few months back, then many lives could have been saved.
"In India, we do many things late and things travel to our country very slowly," Justice Kulkarni said. "Why not start this (door-to-door vaccination) pro-actively when the lives of senior citizens are concerned?" the court asked.
In a related but separate development, the WHO also indicated that the current scale of pandemic in India was the result of its decision to hold elections and religious fests like the Kumbh Mela — all of these being elements of mass gathering and thus a recipe for disaster.
The WHO said a recent risk assessment of the situation in India found that resurgence and acceleration of COVID-19 transmission in the country had several potential contributing factors, including "several religious and political mass gathering events which increased social mixing".
The world body also noted that the accelerated spread of more virulent strains also coincided with these events as they encouraged social mixing at a large scale.
On Tuesday, America's top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci had also opined that India was in such "dire straits" because it made the "incorrect assumption" that they were finished with the COVID-19 and opened up prematurely.
With inputs from PTI
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