As India continues to grapple with a second, more potent wave of coronavirus pandemic, the country's vaccination plan hit another roadblock as at least six states have complained of a shortage of vaccine doses within this week.
The Centre, however, has firmly denied the claim insisting that there was no shortage of vaccines.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the complaints, mostly from non-BJP ruled states, were attempts to "cover up" their failures and spread panic.
"Vaccine supplies are being monitored on a real-time basis, and state governments are being apprised regularly about it," Vardhan said in a statement. "Allegations of vaccine shortage are utterly baseless," he added.
The Union minister's statement not only drew sharp reactions from netizens on Twitter, but also stood in stark contrast with the reports from various state and national news media.
Six non-BJP ruled states complain of shortage; Centre shifts blame
At the centre of this crisis is> Maharashtra, India's worst-hit state, which has painted a grim picture of vaccine stockpile and blamed the Centre for the shortfall. According to state health minister Rajesh Tope, the state's stock of 15.76 lakh doses of Covaxin and Covishield will be exhausted in three days. Health authorities have said they may be forced to halt vaccination for four to five days next week if the new stock does not come.
As per the latest reports, vaccination was halted in several parts of Maharashtra, including Pune, Panvel and Satara, due to a "shortage" in vaccine supply. As per NDTV, 23 of the 26 Mumbai vaccination centres that have already been brought to a grinding halt due to a shortage of jabs are in Navi Mumbai alone.
The state has now asked for a minimum 40 lakh doses to meet the daily target of 4.5 lakh vaccinations, with plans to go up to at least 6 lakh doses per day, according to The Indian Express.
Tope said that while Maharashtra received 7.5 lakh doses on Thursday, Uttar Pradesh was given 48 lakh doses, Madhya Pradesh 40 lakh, Gujarat 30 lakh and Haryana 24 lakh doses.
"Why is Maharashtra, which is leading the vaccination drive and has the highest number of active cases, getting only 7.5 lakh doses?" he asked.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra continues to report the highest number of daily cases in the country. The state reported 59,907 new COVID-19 cases and 322 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Likewise, the state of Jharkhand also said Thursday that it is left with just enough to sustain the inoculation drive for one to two days, according to an NDTV report.
Jharkhand> health minister Banna Gupta told the news channel, "Around 83 lakh people need to get first and second doses of the vaccine. It means we will need around 1.60 crore doses. We are getting it gradually. We do have vaccines available with us but there has been a shortage at some locations."
There were also reports of vaccine shortage from Andhra Pradesh with two districts " Nellore and West Godavari " running out of vaccines. According to The News Minute, officials had said that a fresh batch of vaccines was supposed to reach on 2 April, but the supply has been delayed.
The Economic Times also quoted state authorities to report a statewide shortage, adding that the Centre has said supplies can be sent "only after April 15." The newspaper report published Tuesday had claimed that the supplies were only sufficient to keep the drive going till Thursday evening (today).
The state on Thursday scrambled to get some supplies redirected from Chennai to continue the vaccination drive uninterrupted.
Andhra Pradesh has administered 33,89,990 doses of vaccine till 7 am on Thursday. It has over 13,000 active COVID-19 cases as per the latest health ministry data.
Odisha is another state that has been reporting severe shortages, with at least 50 percent vaccination centres running dry.
"Due to shortage of vaccine, we have to close nearly 700 vaccination centres in the state (out of over 1,400 functional sites). Only 755 could be made active today," Health and Family Welfare Minister NK Das said in a letter to Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Harsh Vardhan.
India Today quoted Das as saying, "At present, we have 5.34 lakh doses. We administer 2.5-lakh vaccines daily. So, our stock will last for 2 more days. We have written to the Centre to send us a minimum of 25 lakh vaccines for 10 days so that we can vaccinate properly."
Das also stated that even though the state government has reminded the Centre to make provisions asap, there has been no response till date.
Chhattisgarh government has also said they are barely managing with the current supplies in the stockpile. The state ran out of stocks and could vaccinate only 20,000-30,000 people on Monday, reported ThePrint. However, it has now got a fresh batch of 3,25,000 doses, said state Health Minister TS Singh Deo.
Earlier, the state was inoculating around 3 lakh people daily but that number will come down until uninterrupted fresh supply chain is resumed.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh also said Wednesday that the state was not in a position to ramp up inoculation as desired because of a limited supply of vaccines. Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, Punjab's nodal officer for COVID-19 said that at least 2 lakh daily doses should be administered in Punjab henceforth.
"This will create a shortage for us. At this rate of 2 lakh per day, we have doses only to suffice two more days. We have already written to Centre seeking for 8 lakh doses more." he was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
India has been consistently reporting worrying figures of coronavirus cases through all of April, with the country recording its highest single-day spike of 1,26,789 new COVID-19 cases just today. This has pushed its infection tally to 1,29,28,574, while the number of active cases too went upwards to breach the nine lakh-mark again, Union Health Ministry data updated on Thursday showed.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan released a statement Wednesday in which he deflected blame for the shortages and said some states, including Maharashtra were "trying to divert attention from their poor vaccination efforts by just continuously shifting the goal-posts."
He said the "lackadaisical" attitude of the Maharashtra government has "singularly bogged down" the entire country's efforts to fight the virus.
The Centre also accused Maharashtra of poor management of allocated resources as it alleged that the Maharashtra government wasted 5 lakh doses of COVID-19 vaccine, a charge dismissed by the state government which claimed its wastage statistics (at 3.5 percent) was much lower than Telangana, Andhra and Uttar Pradesh.
Shortage or not?
Even though the government has officially maintained that there is no shortage of vaccine shots in the country, a look at the recent inoculation numbers raises questions on India's capacity to keep up with the inflow of vaccine seekers as early inhibitions against the vaccines drop.
As of today, India has been administering more than 34 lakh anti-coronavirus doses per day. However, the production capacity of India's two vaccine manufacturers indicates a clear shortfall.
The Serum Institute of India, which is the primary provider of India's vaccine requirements, is currently producing 21 lakh doses per day, its CEO Adar Poonawalla told NDTV in an interview while insisting that his company's production capacity was "very stressed".
"The globe needs this vaccine... we are prioritising the needs of India (but) we are still short of being able to supply to every Indian," Poonawalla said.
He said SII needed Rs 3,000 crore, a shortfall linked to the deal with the government to sell doses at a heavy discount, in order to ramp up capacity needed to scale up production by June, the news channel reported.
In another interview with ET NOW, Poonawalla said that Serum Institute is prioritising the temporarily needs of India before others. However, the company is a private player and has international obligations as well.
On the other hand, indigenously developed, Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN constitutes less than 50 lakh or 10 percent vaccine doses being administered in India at present. Bharat Biotech's yearly production capacity is 15 crore doses, meaning it cannot produce more than 4.5 lakh doses in a day.
An NDTV report pegged the current daily production by the company at a mere 1.6 lakh doses.
This means that while India is administering 34-35 lakh doses daily, its daily production capacity is no more than 26 lakh doses. And this is when SII is prioritising India's needs temporarily as a stopgap measure.
Under the terms of agreements with UK's AstraZenca, the private player has global obligations as well. India's daily inoculation count will also need to go up if India wants to improve herd immunity to curtail the spread of the pandemic.
To demands of opening up vaccination for all, the government says vaccination will not yet be extended to wider groups because of a "limited supply" until July.
A senior Maharashtra official told The Indian Express there is an overall shortage in vaccine supply and the Centre had not estimated the daily consumption to rise so fast.
Furthermore, apart from the gap in supply and demand. Opposition parties have also been questioning the government's vaccine diplomacy initiative under which India has supplied free doses to friendly countries and has also made commercial sales of vaccines produced locally.
Till 21 March, India had sent 6 crore vaccine doses to 76 countries and used 4.5 crore domestically. However, in the 18 days since, the country's immunisation count has touched 9.4 crore.
Another factor in the shortage is the wastage of shots because of inequitable reach of various centres.
A report in Freepress Journal said the data from states with highest wastage statistics was as follows:
Telangana - 17.5 percent
Andhra Pradesh - 11.5 percent
Uttar Pradesh - 9.4 percent
Karnataka - 6.9 percent
J&K - 6.5 percent
Rajasthan - 5.6 percent
Assam - 5.5 percent
Gujarat - 5.3 percent
West Bengal - 4.1 percent
Maharashtra - 3.2 percent
A report in Livemint on 1 April said the national average for COVID-19 vaccine wastage was at six percent with the Centre urging states to keep vaccine wastage below 1 percent.
With inputs from agencies