People aged 18 and over waiting to be inoculated against Covid-19 at a vaccination center on Radha Soami Satsang grounds run by BLK-Max hospital on May 4, 2021 in New Delhi, India.
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As India experiences a devastating second wave of coronavirus pandemic, questions are being asked about how the country ̵
India continues to report massive numbers of new infections. On Tuesday, it passed the grim milestone of having reported over 20 million cases of Covid, and at least 226,188 people have died from the virus, although the reported death toll is believed to be lower than the actual death toll.
Meanwhile, India’s vaccination program is struggling to make an impact and supplies are problematic, despite the country stopping vaccine exports in March to focus on domestic vaccinations.
The sharp rise in infections seen in India since February is attributed to the permission of a major religious festival and election rallies as well as the spread of a more infectious variant of the virus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata party have been criticized for lack of caution and preparedness and accused of putting policy and campaigning on public safety.
A war of words over the government’s vaccination strategy has also followed. Legislators have been criticized for allowing millions of doses to be exported earlier in the year.
To date, India has administered about 160 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine (the predominant shots used are the AstraZeneca shot, produced locally as Covishield as well as a native vaccine called Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech). In April, it approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for use, and the first dose of doses arrived in early May, although it has not yet been used.
Only 30 million people have so far had the complete two doses of a Covid vaccine in India, government data shows. That is a small number (just over 2 %%) of India’s total population of 1.3 billion people – although about a quarter of the total number are under 15 years old and as such are not eligible for a vaccine yet.
Since 1 May, everyone aged 18 or over is eligible for a Covid vaccine, although this extension of the vaccination program has been hampered given the lack of doses reported across the country by national media.
People receive their Covid-19 vaccines from medical workers at a vaccination center set up in the classroom of a government school on May 4, 2021 in New Delhi, India.
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Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, a doctor based in New Delhi who is also a vaccine, a public policy and a health expert, told CNBC on Wednesday that India’s large adult population is hampering immunization efforts.
“Although the expected supply was available, India has opened up the vaccination to a much larger population than any option can probably expect the vaccines (to cover). It is essentially a result of limited supply and a vaccination policy that is not paying attention. “No advanced planning could have ensured the kind of supply needed now with the opening of vaccination for 940 million people in India,” he said.
Vaccine supply is unlikely to change drastically, Lahariya said. “India needs somewhere between 200 and 250 million doses a month to work. The Covid-19 vaccination is running at full capacity and it has about 70-80 million doses a month. It is clear that there is a long way to go. come (to) that kind of supply, “he remarked.
The shortcomings in the vaccine supply have inevitably led to a deflection of blame on the part of the vaccine manufacturers in the firing line. Questions about vaccine prices, production capacity and destination of supplies have hit the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India, and Bharat Biotech, the Hyderabad – based pharmaceutical company that makes Covaxin.
Both have been criticized for their vaccine price structures (i.e. different prices for doses intended for central government, state governments and private hospitals), which led to the SII’s CEO later lowering prices in a public setback.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of SII, which produces the Covid vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, said on Sunday that the institute had been blamed for a vaccine shortage and the scapegoat by politicians, but said it had not increased capacity in the past. due to an initial lack of orders.
“I have been victimized very unfairly and wrongly,” he told the Financial Times on Monday, adding that he had not increased capacity in the past because “there were no orders, we did not think we should make more than 1 billion doses a year. . “
Poonawalla noted that the Indian government had ordered 21 million doses of Covishield from the Serum Institute in late February, but did not say when or if it would buy more, so it ordered an additional 110 million doses in March as infections began to rise. .
People wearing protective face masks are waiting to receive a dose of Covishield, a coronavirus vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, at a vaccination center in New Delhi, India on May 4, 2021.
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Poonawalla said the Indian authorities had not expected to confront another wave of cases and as such were not prepared for attacks on new infections by the end of winter.
He said the country’s shortage of vaccine doses would continue through July, with production expected to rise from approx. 60 to 70 million doses per month to 100 million.
On the one hand, the Indian government insists that it has and orders more vaccines to meet the demand. On Monday, the government issued a statement denying media reports that it had not placed new orders for Covid vaccines since March, stating that “these media reports are completely incorrect and not based on facts.” It said it had raised money for both SII and Bharat Biotech for vaccines to be delivered in May, June and July.
On Tuesday, Poonawalla issued a statement seeking to calm tensions between the government and the SII, noting that “vaccine production is a specialized process, therefore it is not possible to increase production overnight.”
“We also need to understand that the population of India is huge and producing adequate doses for all adults is not an easy task … We have been working with the Indian government since April last year. We have received all kinds of support be it scientific, regulatory and economic, “he said. Poonawalla said SII had received total orders of over 260 million doses without specifying the buyers.
Asked whether the government had gotten its approach to vaccine procurement and production wrong, Lahariya noted that the government had become complacent even though the course of the pandemic had been difficult to predict.
“To be fair, I think there have been two surprises. Unlike a year ago, when Covid-19 vaccine availability was predicted around mid-2021, the vaccine became available a little earlier. Second, it was lulled in. Covid-19 cases in India set kind of satisfaction at all levels, “he noted. Lahariya added that while many months were spent prioritizing the target population for vaccination, the program had then been opened to all adults “prematurely.”
“It has been a matter of hasty and no doubt politically influenced planning, while this was essentially a decision on public health. Therefore, a written plan detailing various aspects, such as supply prospects, could have made the difference.”
The future of Modi
It is still unknown how the vaccination strategy will affect Modi’s ratings in the long run. But there is already evidence that Modi’s ruling BJP is being paid for the Covid crisis in the polls.
Modi’s party failed to win the key state in West Bengal in a regional election last weekend and failed to win three other state elections in April, even though it retained power in the state of Assam.
Dr. Manali Kumar from the Department of Political Science at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland noted that “this second wave is a disaster created by the complacency of the Indian government, which is now preoccupied with controlling the narrative rather than tackling the problem.”
“Perhaps the worst of the disaster now unfolding in India could have been avoided if restrictions on public and private gatherings had been put in place,” she noted, adding that “decades of neglect of investment in health infrastructure and a voter, those who do not have priority public services are also to blame. “
Prime Minister Modi has defended the government’s vaccination strategy and told ministers in April that “those who have a habit of making (play) politics, let them do it … I have been subjected to various accusations. We can not stop those who are “hell bound to run politics. But we are committed to serving humanity, which we will continue,” he said, the Times of India reported.
He also noted that a previous peak in infections, in September last year, had been checked at a time when vaccines were not available and traces and tracing of cases and mass testing had been invoked.