People wait to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Bengaluru. Photo: PTI/Shailendra Bhojak/File
New Delhi/Mumbai: As states face an acute shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, Maharashtra decided on Wednesday to suspend its drive to vaccinate people in the age group of 18-44 years, while Delhi also temporarily shut centres administering Covaxin as it has run out of stock.
The Tamil Nadu government was the latest to announce its intention to float global tenders for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, while the Rajasthan government was also mulling a similar step. Uttarakhand officials said the state will import 20 lakh doses of Sputnik vaccine over the next two months.
States like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Delhi have already opted for global tenders to meet their needs.
Amid demands to ramp up domestic supply, the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech have submitted to the Centre their production plan for the next four months, informing that they can scale it up to 10 crore and 7.8 crore doses respectively by August, official sources said.
The Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield, which is being manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), are currently being used in India’s inoculation drive against the coronavirus.
While the vaccination drive appeared to be faltering in several states, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan urged them to first focus more on people who need their second dose.
Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope said SII has informed it that it would be able to provide 1.5 crore Covishield vaccines to the state only May 20 onwards.
“There is no sufficient supply of vaccine vials by the Centre for inoculation of above-45 age group people. Hence, the state cabinet decided to divert the stock, purchased for the 18-44 age group, for the above-45 age group. Therefore, we are suspending the inoculation of the 18-44 age group for some period,” Tope said.
Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said Bharat Biotech has informed the Delhi government that it cannot provide “additional” Covaxin doses to the national capital.
The stock of Covaxin in Delhi has finished and as a result, around 100 vaccination centres set up in 17 schools have been closed, he said.
The national capital received 2.67 lakh more doses of Covishield on Tuesday evening and there are 4.18 lakh Covishield doses left for people in the 18-44 age group which can last up to nine days, AAP leader Atishi said.
The Covaxin manufacturer has in a letter said that it cannot provide Delhi government vaccines due to unavailability, under the instruction of concerned government official. It means that the central government is controlling the supply of the vaccine,” Sisodia said.
However, joint secretary in the Union health ministry Lav Agarwal on Tuesday denied that the Centre had any role to play in the purchase of vaccines by the states.
Bharat Biotech joint managing director Suchitra Ella said the company has already dispatched Covaxin lots to 18 states on May 10 and said it was “disheartening” to listen to some states complaining about Bharat Biotech’s intentions regarding the supply of COVID-19 vaccines.
“50 of our employees are off work due to covid, yet we continue to work under pandemic lockdowns 24×7 for U,” she said in a tweet.
The Tamil Nadu government said an allocation of about 13 lakh vaccine doses to the state is not sufficient to cover all those in the 18-45 age group. Hence, “the government has decided to go in for global bids to procure vaccines,” an official
The Rajasthan government is exploring the possibility of purchasing COVID-19 vaccines from other countries through global tenders, health minister Raghu Sharma said.
Chief minister Ashok Gehlot, however, said it would have been better if the Central government had procured the vaccines by floating global tenders and distributing them to states.
The Odisha government informed the Centre that about 22 lakh people in the state are waiting for the second shot and therefore the state requires at least 25 lakh doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
The state’s health and family welfare minister N.K. Das, who joined a virtual meeting of Vardhan, said that the state has been facing an acute shortage of vaccines.
Amid rising COVID-19 cases, Kerala also urged the Centre to provide more vaccines.
Chief minister P. Vijayan underlined the need for prioritising the vaccination of those in the 18 to 45 age group from the vaccine ordered by the state as there is not enough stock for everyone to be vaccinated in one go.
The issue of shortage of vaccines has been used by parties like the Congress, Shiv Sena and the AAP to target the BJP-led Central government. They have blamed the current situation on the export of vaccines to other countries early this year.
The ruling BJP, however, accused the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Wednesday of “spreading misinformation” on India’s vaccination programme and said over 84% of the vaccine doses sent abroad were part of the commercial and licensing liabilities of the two Indian manufacturers.
Meanwhile, leaders of 12 opposition parties wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking a free mass vaccination campaign against coronavirus among other steps in the wake of the COVID crisis.
“Procure vaccines centrally from all available sources – global and domestic. Immediately begin a free, universal mass vaccination campaign across the country. Invoke compulsory licensing to expand domestic vaccine production. Spend budgetary allocation of Rs 35,000 crores for the vaccines,” the leaders said in their letter.
The signatories to the joint letter include Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister and JDS leader H.D. Deve Gowda and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. Others include chief ministers Uddhav Thackeray (Shiv Sena), Mamata Banerjee (TMC), M.K. Stalin (DMK) and Hemant Soren (JMM).
Also on Wednesday, the Bombay high court reiterated its earlier order of April 22 in which it asked the Union government to relook at its decision to not initiate a door-to-door vaccination.
The cumulative number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the country has gone past 17.70 crore, the Union health ministry said.
The vaccination exercise as a tool to protect the most vulnerable population groups in the country from COVID-19 continues to be regularly reviewed and monitored at the highest level, it said.