Vaccine shortages undermine India’s efforts to contain Covid crisis

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Severe Covid-19 vaccine shortages have hampered India’s plan to give injections to all adults, with less than half of Indian states able to start vaccinating those over 18 amid warnings that the deficit could last for months.

Over the weekend, more than 600 million Indians became eligible for the coronavirus vaccine under a policy that was introduced following a second deadly wave that hit the country last month .

However, as many had predicted, vaccine shortages have proven to be a major obstacle to deployment and so far only 12 of India’s 36 states and union territories have had enough vaccine in stock to start immunizing. those over 18, and many only in small numbers. Previously, jabs were only available to people over 45 and those with co-morbidities.

As of Sunday, according to the health ministry, only 86,023 people between the ages of 18 and 45 had received their first vaccine. The state that had inoculated the most adults was Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where he was a former chief minister and which is led by his Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party.

The government has been accused of complacency and lack of planning to ensure there will be enough vaccines for its population of over 1.3 billion. While other countries placed large orders last year, the Indian government only placed its first orders in January for just 15.5 million vaccines from the Serum Institute, which makes the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine. (known as Covishield in India, the most widely administered vaccine in the country) and Bharat Biotech, which makes the indigenous vaccine Covaxin.

Adar Poonawalla, managing director of the Serum Institute, told the Financial Times on Sunday that India’s severe shortage would continue “for months”, possibly until July, because the Modi government failed to place orders on time. and therefore had not increased manufacturing capacity earlier. .

In a statement on Monday, Poonawalla added: “The manufacture of vaccines is a specialized process. It is therefore not possible to increase production overnight. We must also understand that the Indian population is huge and producing enough doses for all adults is not an easy task. “

Poonawalla confirmed that it has received orders from the central government for 110 million doses of Covishield, and that an additional 110 million doses will be supplied to states and private hospitals “in the coming months”.

State governments are responsible for purchasing their own vaccines for people between the ages of 18 and 45, and most have reported delays in requested stocks to the Serum Institute.

The government had also refused to allow Pfizer to register its vaccine in India months ago, despite approval in the United States and the EU. He told Pfizer that he had to test in India first, so the company withdrew his application in February. Pfizer President Albert Bourla confirmed on Monday that he was in talks with the Indian government on vaccine approval.

The first batch of 150,000 doses of the Indian Sputnik vaccine also arrived in India on Sunday.

As India’s Covid-19 cases continued to rise at a record rate, with the country recording 368,147 new cases and 3,417 additional deaths on Monday, the vaccination rate across the country fell to its lowest level.

Over the past 15 days, the daily immunization rate has fallen from an average of 3.2 million days to 2.3 million days. If India is to vaccinate everyone over 18 this year, 7.5 million doses will be needed each day.

In Mumbai, one of the cities most affected by Covid-19, only five vaccination centers had stocks for 18-45 year olds, and on the first day of deployment, only around 1,000 people received their vaccines. In Odisha state, only 96 people between the ages of 18 and 45 received their vaccine on the first day.

Stocks were so low in Mumbai on Monday that vaccines were suspended for people over 45. In India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, vaccines for 18-45 year olds have been administered in just seven districts. The Delhi government began giving the vaccine to people over 18 on Monday, with booths set up at 77 schools in the city, but many have struggled to secure a spot on the app.

In the wake of India’s slow vaccination schedule and voracity of Second Wave, experts have warned that vaccines will do little to curb the growing number of cases in India.

“If we think we are going to control the second outbreak with the vaccine, we are sadly wrong,” Indian virologist Shahid Jameel, who is part of India’s Covid-19 task force, said, speaking to Indian newspaper Mojo. “The time for that has passed… what the vaccine taken now is going to do is reduce the scale of the third wave. The focus should now be on saving lives. ”

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