A day after a heated exchange of words between Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan and Maharashtra over the latter’s demand for more vaccine stock, the Centre Thursday increased the state’s allocation to 17.43 lakh doses — from 7.43 lakh it had been assured on April 1. Kerala’s supply was also scaled up, from 4.74 to 7.74 lakh doses. The fresh stock is expected in the next few days.
Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope, however, reiterated that they would need at least 40 lakh doses per week to run its vaccination drive without hitches. On Thursday afternoon, Maharashtra had around 12 lakh doses left, which it is expected to exhaust in the next two days. “Even 17.43 lakh is inadequate. We don’t want to have a hand-to-mouth situation,” said Tope.
An order by the Union Health Ministry, accessed by The Indian Express, shows that 350 lakh Covishield doses are to be distributed in the coming days — Uttar Pradesh will receive 44.98 lakh doses, Madhya Pradesh 33.76 lakh, Karnataka 29.06 lakh, Haryana 24 lakh, West Bengal 21 lakh, Maharashtra 17.43 lakh, and Gujarat 15.57 lakh.
The worst-hit state, Maharashtra is vaccinating close to 4 lakh people daily and has immunised the most number of people across the country (89.49 lakh). Kerala, which is also seeing a surge, is among the bottom half in terms of supply as is Rajasthan (3.83 lakh new doses). Rajasthan incidentally has vaccinated the second-highest number of people (82.87 lakh).
The Opposition has been alleging that the Centre is favouring BJP-ruled states in vaccine supply.
On Thursday evening, Vardhan tweeted that India has 13 crore doses in total, of which 9.1 crore had been used, 2.4 crore are in stock across states, and 1.5 crore are in the pipeline and would be transported soon. “Where does question of shortages arise?”
After Maharashtra and Rajasthan, Gujarat (81.47 lakh), Uttar Pradesh (78.47 lakh) and West Bengal (70.55 lakh) have carried out the most vaccinations. “The Centre allocates vaccine stocks based on daily consumption. But both Maharashtra and Rajasthan have received less supply,” a Maharashtra health official said.
“Considering our population, it (the supply) seems very skewed. All these supplies were to be delivered after April 15. Most districts will have no stock 10th onwards,” Maharashtra Health Secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas said. On Wednesday, Maharashtra had vaccinated 4.37 lakh people (among its highest daily numbers), but officials said numbers fell on Thursday due to lack of stock (the data wasn’t in till Thursday night).
Panvel and Satara have completely halted immunisation, while Sangli, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Nashik will stop from Friday. In Mumbai, several centres have stopped vaccination, and almost all might have to halt by Saturday.
Navi Mumbai corporation commissioner Abhijeet Bangar said, “Many people came and found no vaccines. Such halt will negatively affect our exercise.” In Mumbai, civic officials said centres only immunised registered recipients and walk-ins were not allowed.
Tope again questioned Vardhan’s charge that Maharashtra was not covering the priority groups enough and hence contributing to the Covid-19 caseload, and that its vaccine shortage complaint was meant to divert attention from this. “Our health workers are working tirelessly. We are increasing our beds daily, our testing, treating and tracing are strong, we have raised RT-PCR tests to 70%, every guideline of the Centre is followed… In UP, 10% of the tests are RT-PCR… We urge minister (Vardhan) to cooperate with us. This is not a political issue,” he said. Maharashtra appreciated “help from the Centre” in handling Covid-19, “but we are not getting support to the extent we want”, Tope added.
Comparing Maharashtra to Gujarat, the Health Minister said, “They have 17,348 active Covid cases, we have 5 lakh. There are more deaths in Maharashtra than Gujarat. Their population is half ours, and we are vaccinating more, but Gujarat has so far received 1 crore doses and Maharashtra 1.06 crore.”
While health is a state subject, Tope noted, the immunisation drive is being controlled by the Centre and states cannot individually procure vaccines. He said that Maharashtra has demanded that vaccination be extended to people between 20-40 years of age, and to allow Haffkine Pharmaceuticals, Parel, to manufacture vaccines.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar said he had also spoken to Vardhan on Wednesday about the shortage of vaccines. He said the Health Minister had assured that the Centre will stand by Maharashtra and other states to tackle the situation.
Tope asked the Union Health Ministry to also release data of the Sample Registration Survey on performance of states with respect to Covid-19, and to share a detailed report on genome sequencing of samples tested in Maharashtra.