Centre, states face off over supply of Covid-19 vaccines
New Delhi: Several states said on Wednesday they will run out of coronavirus vaccines within days and requested the central government for replenishments, prompting a strong rebuttal from Union health minister Harsh Vardhan who accused three states – all under Opposition governments – of politicising the issue.
Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope on Wednesday said the state was left with 1.4 million doses, which would last only three days, and urged the Union government to prioritise shipments to the state, which is reporting close to 10 times higher number of new infections every day than the region with the next-highest numbers.
Earlier, on Monday, CM Uddhav Thackeray wrote a letter to the PM asking permission to vaccinate all above the age of 25.
The Union health minister issued a statement later on Wednesday evening, hitting out at what he said was attempts to “divert attention” from the state’s slow vaccination drive, and targetting Punjab, Maharashtra, and Delhi, all of which have asked for an expansion of the criteria for vaccination, something the Union government isn’t willing to do right away. “Doesn’t it seem evident that these states are trying to divert attention from their poor vaccination efforts by just continuously shifting the goal posts? Politicising such a public health issue is a damning indictment of certain political leaders who should know better,” said Harsh Vardhan in the statement that cited vaccination figures from Maharashtra, Delhi, and Punjab, which he said were lower than that of several other states.
Later, the Union health ministry sent letters to Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab, asking them to take “immediate corrective action” to ensure doses are delivered to health and front-line workers. The letter carried the same figures as disclosed by Harsh Vardhan in his statement.
The Union government on Monday asked all states to stop registering more people as health and front-line workers.
This confrontation comes a day before a meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called with the chief ministers of all states on Thursday. The meeting is meant to take stock of the Covid-19 situation and the vaccination drive, especially at a time when the country is going through its most severe wave of infections yet.
On Tuesday, speaking about demands to open up the drive, health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the drive was aimed at controlling fatalities, and that vaccines were being prioritised for those who “need” it, rather than those who “want” it.
This week, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, too, wrote to the PM seeking the 45 years age bar removed, while his Punjab counterpart Amarinder Singh made similar demands earlier in the month. Harsh Vardhan gave a break-up of vaccination data for the three states to suggest they had not delivered adequate doses to health staff, front-line workers, and senior citizens.
According to figures analysed from the Co-WIN dashboard, Maharashtra has delivered the highest number of doses among all states at 7.4 million, although in per capita terms, it has delivered 60,788 doses per million people, slightly lower than the national average of 65,329.
Among states with large populations, Kerala, Rajasthan, Delhi, West Bengal and Maharashtra are the top five states in terms of doses delivered per million people. Officials in five other states – Rajasthan, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, and Uttarakhand – separately told HT that doses were close to running out.
Officials in some BJP-ruled states, too, said they had stocks left only for a few days. Kuldeep Singh Martoliya, Uttarakhand’s extended programme for immunisation officer (the nodal officer for Covid-19 vaccinations), said that around 130,000 doses were left, which were to last for two more days at the current rate of vaccinations. In Bihar, which has delivered the lowest number of doses per capita at a little over 24,600, some districts were asked to go slow on immunisations till the next tranche of 900,000 doses arrive.
Similar concerns were raised by Odisha, where the vaccination in-charge, Bijay Panigrahi, said till Wednesday morning, the state had a total 534,000 doses left. “With the state vaccinating nearly 2 lakh (200,000) everyday, the doses would get exhausted by Friday unless Centre dispatches more vaccines,” he said. Panigrahi said due to shortage of adequate vaccines, the state was able to run only 755 vaccination sites against 1,200-odd on Wednesday.
Vaccine supply concerns have also been sounded by the manufacturers. Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla said on Tuesday that his company, which is making the Covishield vaccine (over 90% of all doses given in India till now are of this), “was very outstretched”.
An analysis of production capacities show that between SII and Bharat Biotech, which makes Covaxin, India’s current capacity is around 75 million doses a month, or roughly 2.5 million a day. Over the last week, 3.1 million doses a day on average have been delivered across the country.
In his statement, Harsh Vardhan singled out Maharashtra for its officials and leaders flagging possible shortage and criticised what he said was “misgovernance and utter casual approach of Maharashtra government in battling the virus”.
“Today, Maharashtra not only has the highest cases and deaths in the country but also has one of the highest test positivity rates in the world! Their testing is not up to the mark and their contact tracing leaves a lot to be desired... The performance of Maharashtra government in terms of vaccinating healthcare workers and front-line workers is also not great.”
“Maharashtra government needs to do a lot more to control the pandemic and the Central government will help them in all possible ways. But focusing all their energies on playing politics and spreading lies to create panic is not going to help the people of Maharashtra,” he added.
Reacting to this, Balasaheb Thorat, state revenue minister and former state Congress chief, later said in a tweet: “Why was there no strategy or planning put into the logistics of the vaccine programme? Why is there both extremely high wastage & an acute shortage of vaccines? Perhaps PM (Narendra) Modi should focus more on running the country than running for elections.”
The Union government separately gave a break-up of supplies and said Maharashtra has been sent 10.6 million doses, of which 9 million had been used. The government said another 743,280 were in the “pipeline”, which authorities said meant as being in transit.
“The union minister Prakash Javadekar had asked us to double the vaccination numbers and had assured to provide adequate stock. We accepted it as a challenge and increased the daily vaccination to 450,000 from 300,000. However, we have started facing shortage of vaccine stock and have to shut down many centres across the state as there is no stock left there,” Tope said on Wednesday morning.
Javadekar, on Wednesday, tweeted that the “central govt replenishes more vaccine than what is needed for actual use”.