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Coronavirus | Health Minister attacks Maharashtra over its demand for more vaccine supply

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. File   | Photo Credit: PTI

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, in a no holds barred attack on the Opposition-led State of Maharashtra, has accused it of demanding universal vaccination for all adults to cover up its “poor vaccination efforts”.

Maharashtra, which has and continues to see the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, was putting its citizens in danger by allowing them to escape institutional quarantine for the sake of “personal vasuli (extortion)”, Dr. Vardhan remarked in his diatribe. “Overall, as the State has lurched from one crisis to another. It seems as if the state leadership is happily sleeping at the wheels.”

In recent days, several States — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — have complained of erratic vaccine supplies. The Centre has consistently maintained that there were no shortages, that the vaccine strategy was put in place after consultation with States, and because “supply was limited”, the priority had been to vaccinate healthcare and frontline workers and groups at risk.

Though several Opposition-ruled States were upbraided, much of Dr. Harsh Vardhan’s ire was directed at Maharashtra.

Coronavirus updates | April 7, 2021

“In particular, I have seen statements made by public representatives in Maharashtra about shortage of vaccines. This is nothing but an attempt to divert attention from Maharashtra government’s repeated failures to control the spread of pandemic. The inability of Maharashtra government to act responsibly is beyond comprehension. To spread panic among the people is to compound the folly further. Vaccine supplies are being monitored on a real-time basis, and State governments are being apprised regularly about it. Allegations of vaccine shortage are utterly baseless,” his letter notes.

Coronavirus | Health Minister attacks Maharashtra over its demand for more vaccine supply
 

He marked out the three States — all led by non-National Democratic Alliance governments — to argue that they were coming up short compared with several other States on vaccinating healthcare workers, frontline workers and those above 45 years, and trying to “politicise” the pandemic.

He also picked out Chhattisgarh for “petty politicking” and said that the State’s overarching reliance on rapid antigen tests and its early refusal to use Covaxin gave it the “dubious distinction of being the only government in the world to incite vaccine hesitancy”.

He said there were 10 States that had inoculated over 90% of their healthcare workers, when Maharashtra had managed “only 86%”, and Punjab and Delhi had carried out 64% and 72%, respectively. “Among frontline workers, Maharashtra has vaccinated only 73% with first dose. Equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 71% and 65%. There are 5 Indian states/UTs that have already done more than 85%. When it comes to senior citizens, Maharashtra has vaccinated just 25%, Delhi has vaccinated 30% & Punjab has vaccinated only 13%. There are 4 states/UTs that have already vaccinated more than 50%. 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?”

Also read: Chhattisgarh Health Minister flags erratic vaccine supply

Amidst a second wave, which is now seeing over a 100,000 new cases being added everyday, there's been a clamour for opening up vaccines for all adults. However, Serum Institute of India (SII) has said that its production lines have been stretched and that India must provide it with ₹3,000 crore to boost production capacity.

Adar Poonawala, CEO, SII, told NDTV that it was unable to export vaccines (which it sells at a higher price) because of restrictions placed by India and this was curtailing profits necessary for larger manufacturing capacity investments. The company produced about 65 million vaccine doses a month and “most of it” was for India. However, with India now administering over 2-4 million doses a day, the supply could quickly dry up.

Mr. Poonawala said his company had been sent legal notices by AstraZeneca over delays in supplying Covishield, and a ban by the United States on exporting the raw material necessary for making another forthcoming vaccine called Novavax meant the SII’s ability to make it had halved.

The Centre has also ordered 20 million doses of Covaxin by Bharat Biotech though there are again concerns over how quickly the company can ramp production for the projected 120 million doses. Bharat Biotech, too, has reportedly requested funds from the government for ramping up production.

India has supplied about 64.5 million doses of Covaxin (made by Bharat Biotech) and Covishield (by SII) to at least 84 foreign governments as of March 29, and has administered 84 million doses to its own people. So far, only 5% of Indians have received at least one dose and 0.8% have been fully inoculated.

“The vaccines are not merely the wants, but the rightful need of people. All adults should get vaccinated with government as the sole assurer of quality without necessarily being the sole provider of vaccine services,” said Giridhar Babu, epidemiologist and professor and head, Lifecourse Epidemiology, Public Health Foundation of India.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 6:58:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-harsh-vardhan-accuses-maharashtra-of-trying-to-cover-failures-by-spreading-panic-on-vaccines/article34265344.ece

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