Centre says 43 million Covid vaccine doses in stock after shortage alarm
States including Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand, complained that they are facing a shortage of vaccines, while reports emerged from several other states that vaccine centres were shutting early or turning people away due to supplies running out.
Several states continued to warn that they would run out of coronavirus vaccines in the next few days, with some complaining that they were forced to shut inoculation centres on Thursday, prompting Union health minister Harsh Vardhan to reiterate that there was no shortage and the country has more than 43 million doses in stock or in the pipeline.
To be sure, the problem seems to be more a result of last-mile allocation of vaccines within states, since, at the aggregate level, all of them have at least as many doses as they administer in a couple of days.
States including Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand, complained that they are facing a shortage of vaccines, while reports emerged from several other states that vaccine centres were shutting early or turning people away due to supplies running out. Officials in states such as Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Assam said they only had supplies for the next few days would be forced to close some vaccination centres if supplies are not replenished.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan called for “an end to fear mongering”, and said that more than 43 million doses were either in stock or nearing delivery to states. With his post, he shared a chart that showed that 91 million doses had been administered, 24 million were in stock and another 19 million were in the pipeline.
“There is no vaccine shortage; the central government has been reiterating time and again. We shared the latest data on supplies, consumption and doses in pipeline publicly...,” he said.
The number of doses consumed also include those that were wasted, which in effect means of the 43 million doses a percentage will go to waste.
According to the Union health ministry data shared last month, India’s national average for Covid-19 vaccine wastage is around 6.5%. Even though 6.5% wastage is well within the acceptable limits of 10%, the centre asked states to keep it under 1% so that the supplies are used optimally.
“Let’s put an end to fear mongering now!” Vardhan said on Twitter. “Where does question of shortages arise? We’re continuously monitoring and enhancing supply.”
Government officials compared the noise regarding vaccine shortages to similar complaints by some states regarding medical oxygen supply last year. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said that the issue is not that states do not have adequate supply, but that a problem has been created due to improper distribution of supplies and a matter of sending the right number of doses to the right places.
“Nationally we have adequate supply, but within the state re-appropriation may have to be done from one consignee point or cold chain point to another,” said a senior central government official. “At any given moment of time, states are given supply for four to eight days based on their average daily consumption. Either on the third-fourth day, or the seventh-eighth day of their request, they are sent fresh supplies (replenishment),” the official added.
The 19 million referred by the health minister is the replenishment.
A majority of Covid vaccination centres have also been unable to plan ahead for walk-ins which have ended up being a high proportion of their issued doses, other officials said. “While they know how many people register before coming in, some vaccination centres end up underestimating the number of walk-ins, thus creating an artificial shortage, which becomes a challenge for them to anticipate in advance,” officials from one of the states explained.
“We’re continuously monitoring and enhancing supply [of vaccines]. Hue and cry by certain states about partisanship by the Union government is just a farce, [and is] an attempt to hide their own incompetence. Maharashtra and Rajasthan are two of the top three states based on allocation of vaccine doses. Both are non-BJP governed states,” Harsh Vardhan said.
Maharashtra, the country’s worst-hit state, has only two days worth of vaccines in stock, state health minister Rajesh Tope said on Thursday. “Vaccination has stopped in districts like Satara, Sangli and Panvel. There are many more districts where it has stopped,” he said. “I have just been informed that the Centre increased Covid-19 vaccine doses from 700,000 to 1,700,000. Even this is less because we need 40,000,000 vaccine doses in a week and 1,700,000 doses are not enough,” he said. His reference is to the 1.7 million doses in the pipeline for Maharashtra.
Tope alleged that other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, etc were getting “more vaccines” when seen in the context of their population and Covid-19 cases.
In Delhi, Union minister Prakash Javadekar responded that 500,000 doses were wasted in Maharashtra due to lack of planning by the state government. He added he has information that 2.3 million doses of the vaccines are available with the Maharashtra government. “...which is a stock for five to six days. Now, to distribute in villages and districts is the responsibility of the state government,” Javadekar said.
Officials in at least five states – Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal – separately said that their vaccine stock would only last only another day or two. A majority of them said they have asked for more shots of the vaccine, and expect to receive them soon. In a sixth state, Assam, officials said they are mulling closing down some vaccination centres, especially in rural areas, if fresh stocks of vaccines don’t reach the state soon.
In Jharkhand, health minister Banna Gupta said the state only has stock a “few days, and that he has asked Centre for a million doses that he expects to receive in a day or two.”
The Centre’s strategy has always been to continuously replenish vaccines -- a measure aimed at ensuring equitable allotment and freshness of stock.
Kuldeep Singh Martoliya, Uttarakhand’s state’s nodal officer for Covid-19 vaccination, said, “We are moving vaccines from other districts to districts where shortage is being witnessed. But within a day or two, they won’t have any vaccines left.”
Meanwhile, reports have come from across the country on people are being turned away from vaccination centres due to doses running out.
Lok Sabha MP and Nationalist Congress Party leader Supriya Sule on Wednesday alleged that 109 vaccination centres were shut in Pune on Thursday due to a shortage of Covid-19 vaccines. The Panvel City Municipal Corporation (PCMC) in Maharashtra similarly stopped its vaccination drive due to the shortage of vaccines. Dr Anand Gosavi, medical officer of PCMC said, “We have suspended the vaccination drive for a few days due to the shortage of vaccine. We now have stock for second doses. Once we get the vaccine stock again, we shall resume our drive.”
The other reason leading to artificial shortages could be that certain states are hoarding vaccine doses to administer the second dose later. “States have been assured time and again that there was no shortage of vaccine supplies, and they must not hoard doses for the second shot,” said a government official aware of the matter.
In Odisha, health minister Naba Kisore Das said they have shut half the state’s 1,400 vaccination centres and that if the states do not receive vaccines within the next two days then they may have to temporarily halt the vaccination drive.
Bihar was also forced to close down some session sites, and refuse vaccines to many at private centres, officials said. Darbhanga civil surgeon Dr Sanjiva Kumar Sinha said: “We will have to stop the vaccination programme in the district on Friday due to shortage of vaccines. If we get the stock by Friday evening, we will resume the vaccination drive from Saturday.”