Prickly Issue: Vaccine Politics Must Stop, Say Central Government Sources

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The politics over public health that is playing out in the country is unfortunate, government sources said to News18 on Tuesday against the backdrop of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre and states ruled by rivals bombarding each other with rhetorical fusillade in recent weeks over the unrelenting Covid-19 crisis and the vaccination drive that is facing some nettlesome tests.

India opened vaccinations to all adults from May 1 in a bid to tame a rampaging second wave of the pandemic, but the pace of administering the shots has dropped with some states saying they only have limited stock to give out while pointing accusatory fingers at the Centre.

“If some states are not getting the quantities that they want they don’t even want to start a vaccination drive,” said a central government official. “Some states want to vaccinate their entire 18-45 population in 2-3 months, like Delhi, Maharashtra, Telangana or Andhra Pradesh. I don’t want to name them. But today we are in a situation where we have limited stocks. So whatever we have got, wherever we get it, people should start vaccinating without playing any politics over it. So by cooking up additional and artificial barriers, some states are delaying vaccination. This is what we are seeing as an inconsistency.”

A total of 3,29,942 new Covid-19 infections were reported in the country in a span of 24 hours, government data showed on Tuesday, while the death toll climbed to 2,49,992 with 3,876 fresh fatalities. After registering a steady rise for two months, the active cases have reduced to 37,15,221 comprising 16.16 per cent of the total infections, while the national Covid-19 recovery rate was recorded at 82.75 per cent. However, hospitals in many parts of the country, including the national capital, are still struggling to cope with the number of people falling sick, many of them in need of respiratory support to stay alive.

Efforts are on to bolster the inoculation exercise. But falling vaccination numbers, limited capacity of the two local vaccine manufacturers Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India who are now being piled upon with much bigger orders from state governments and private hospitals that may take months to fulfil, and private institutes stepping out of the vaccination picture from May 1 due to no supplies being committed to them are plaguing the drive.

“Government of India has so far provided more than 18 crore vaccine doses (18,00,03,160) to States/UTs Free of Cost. Of this, the total consumption including wastages is 17,09,71,429 doses (as per data available at 8 am today). More than 90 lakh COVID Vaccine doses (90,31,691) are still available with the States/UTs to be administered. States with negative balance are showing more consumption (including wastage) than vaccine supplied as they have not reconciled the vaccine they have supplied to Armed Forces. Furthermore, more than 7 lakh (7,29,610) vaccine doses will be received in addition by the States/UTs within the next 3 days,” the Centre said in a media release on Tuesday.

India’s massive vaccination drive began sluggishly in January when cases were low and exports of vaccines were high, with 64 million doses going overseas. But as infections started to rise in March and April, exports drastically dropped so doses could go to the domestic population. Under the new policy that was rolled out on May 1, states were asked to procure vaccine supplies directly from manufacturers at their own cost for the 18-44 age group, hence delinking this part from the rest of the ongoing inoculation exercise. The Centre-sponsored drive, under which vaccines are still free at government hospitals, continues for those above 45 and healthcare and frontline workers.

“When the government and the people are making decisions, they are not making it with public health in mind. They are making decisions based on politics in mind. We are talking to our regulators every week,” said the government official. “What I see happening in India —​ people playing politics with public health. Some people used to call Covaxin (of Bharat Biotech) as a BJP vaccine. For example, Kerala refused vaccines for 2 months. We want people to be more mindful of what they are saying. They are propagating vaccine hesitancy.”

As of day 115 of the vaccination drive on Monday, a total of 24,30,017 vaccine doses were given which included 10,47,092 beneficiaries first doses 13,82,925 second doses according to a provisional government report.

“Telangana wanted huge supplies to get started; Kerala, Delhi also delayed the vaccination process. Tamil Nadu is also dilly-dallying for 2 weeks. Doses are ready but it is not the number of doses given to them, so they are not picking it up. Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh (both ruled by the BJP) have been among the proactive states. Other states have been slow,” said the official. “The government has made allocations based on the populations of the states. UP, Bihar, Maharashtra will get huge quantities because of their population. States must understand that their strategies have serious repercussions.”

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